Sex

Okay, humans…

It’s one thing to assert the tired old canard that, because science can’t explain something, a god must be used to explain it.

It’s quite another to go on to claim that one particular patriarchal Hebrew sky god is responsible for the phenomenon in question.

And it’s still yet another thing to further assert that this invisible creative force actually gives a shit about where I put my penis.

I’ve yet to hear any theological explanation for this, other than “God said it, so there,” (which is the fastest way to completely lose any intellectual currency you may have). And yet even a cursory glimpse at human history shows a clear pattern. Religion, it seems, is obsessed with with the penis and vagina.

Sex is very simple. And awesome. A natural, zesty enterprise. So why is it that most of the Abrahamic religions seem to react to sex (particularly the homosexual variety) with such contempt?

Granted, the modernized factions have found a way to upgrade the Scriptures to fit with our current “secular” sexual moral constructs. Some branches of Christianity are accepting of homosexuality and extramarital sex. Some are okay with any kind of sex, so long as it’s done within the confines of holy matrimony. But there’s still a good number of religious followers who would contend that sex exists merely for procreation and should only be done inside a heterosexual marriage. No exceptions. And if you’re enjoying it, you’re doing it wrong.

Scratch that. Only if the woman is enjoying it, are you doing it wrong.

And it’s not enough for these people to decide to live that lifestyle of their own accord. It’s absolutely imperative to them that everyone be taught to live that particular lifestyle, and that governing bodies should exalt that world view as superior. Regardless of what biology, statistics, or medical science has to say about it.

That’s one thing that annoys me about some Christians, particularly those that lobby for “abstinence-only” sex ed in public schools.

Thing is, I’m totally a fan of arbitrary promises. An arbitrary promise proves, irrefutably, that we as human beings can make and live by our own rules, and that we can choose to give up any vices we decide to give up, be it of sex, substance, or habit.

So if you want to decide, on your own, to remain celibate until some arbitrary date–say, your wedding night–then fucking go for it.

But that’s exactly what it is. Arbitrary.

There is, in fact, no good reason to make such a random decision.

I’m sure everyone reading is already sagacious enough to be aware of the hard data concerning this issue, so I won’t delve any deeper into it outside of the basics. In short, not only are abstinence-only sex ed programs completely useless in curbing teen sexual activity, but abstinence in practice doesn’t make you any healthier, physically, nor does it make your relationship any healthier (or happier) than that of your premaritally-boning counterparts.

Supporters of abstinence-only sex ed usually pull out the usual slew of supposed advantages of abstinence. The most popular, and usually touted as the “best,” reason is the threat of teen pregnancy. Then comes the risk of STD infection. Both of these risks, however, are drastically lowered to the point of being entirely negligible, if teens are given a good education on the proper use of birth control.

“Oh, but there’s still a chance that condoms could fail and that birth control pills won’t work.” True. A very small chance. So small, that no reasonable person should see any cause for worry. If we’re going to accept this kind of reasoning, then abstinence shouldn’t be considered safe either, since there’s still the very small yet very real chance that you can catch the clap from a toilet seat or that you can be raped.

“Married couples who abstained until marriage feel closer, since they’ve only had each other. Hence, they’re happier.”

Anecdotal. Irrelevant. I could just as easily say that married couples who didn’t wait until marriage were able to find out whether or not they were sexually compatible before they decided to commit to each other, similar to how you don’t buy a car until you’ve taken it for a test drive to see if it gives you the ride you’re looking for. Hence, they’re happier.

Any way you slice it, there’s no good, objective reason to save oneself for marriage. Not to say that everyone should be taught to be promiscuous. In fact I’m saying the opposite.

I’m saying we should be allowed to make our own choices concerning sex, without certain people who claim that their imaginary friends told them that their way is the best way and the only way, and who are somehow exempt from having to provide solid evidence for this claim. If you feel like sexual abstinence is right for you, by all means, indulge yourself. Or… don’t indulge yourself, actually.

But, if I may put it bluntly, my dick is none of your business unless I make it your business (consensually, that is). Nor are anyone else’s private parts, for that matter.

“Free Will is Some Deep-Ass S#!*”

I remember a few conversations I had with some college friends, back when I was still a Christian, on Calvinism and predestination. For a long time, I actually considered myself a Calvinist.

One usually can’t discuss Calvinism without also talking about destiny and free will, as any Calvinist will tell you. It wasn’t long before one of those present, slightly drunk and high (it’s college), shook his head, sunk in his chair, and said, “Maaann… free will is some deep-ass shit.”

For those who don’t know, Calvinism is a perfectly legitimate theological approach to Christianity (one of many), founded by Jean Calvin in the 16th century. Long story short, most Calvinists believe that free will is merely an illusion; that God has already written the whole of human history from “the beginning to the end,” including who will be in heaven with him (known as “the elect”) and who will be in hell. We may feel like we have a choice in the matter, but God, being all-knowing, would not have been foolish enough to allow random human variables to fuck up his plan.

Think about it as a book. The author creates the characters and determines exactly what will happen to them. If the characters were real, they might think that they’re making their own choices and decisions, but really they’re making the very choice they were created to make.

This was a common analogy among Calvinists. Personally, I used to think of life as more like one of God’s impromptu jokes come alive.

Anyway, my point is, I’m not a Christian anymore. But, surprisingly, I still don’t believe in “free will.” Or at least, not in the way most people mean it.

This topic stems from a question someone asked me on facebook, which went a little something like this:

So marc, do you feel we have free will or we don’t? do you think we choose the paths that we are on, as in when i made a left instead of a right on that last light i ended up hitting a guy on the street that was neither his nor my fault? I want to know who controls these everyday tragedies and sucesses we go through daily. And when one has a burden in their heart who do they cry out to or where do they turn to? Who judges the man who tried to live his whole life as a man(or so he thought) and when he developed in his life further, realized he was a woman with a family and his wife leaves him, he confronts his inner feelings to want to live as a woman. What is the purpose of all of this in life, why aren’t we just robots that learn to live and love eachother without pain and hate or desires and wants that PEOPLE may say is not according to “God’s plan”. Where does all that lie?

It’s a good question. A damn good question.

Here’s the thing. I’m a man of science. And science deals with questions of the knowable or foreseeable truth. Take physics as an example. The universe happens to operate a certain way, and the science of physics represents our attempt to understand the way it operates.

For instance, an object in free fall will accelerate toward the ground at a rate of about 9.81 m/s^2. A lot of experimentation was involved in arriving at this answer. Furthermore, it’s repeatable. We can actually set up an experiment wherein we measure the distance from a ball to the ground and calculate how long it will take to hit the ground when we let it go. And the answer will be dead accurate. Every time.

If we know anything from physics (as well as the rest of science), it’s that if you’re given all the variables, you can always, always, always arrive at the right answer. So, theoretically, if we had knowledge of every single variable and every single premise, constant, and initial condition, we could successfully foresee the future. A math equation can only have one right answer.

The problem is, the number of variables is nothing short of infinite.

When you decide to make a left turn instead of a right, you think you’re doing so of your own accord (if you happen to drive a Honda Accord, that would be an intentional pun). But the reality is that you act according to an infinite number of contributing factors from your past, and everything leading up to the moment you were born as well.

It’s completely random, and yet it’s not. When all the variables are laid out, there’s really only one possible outcome.

So, to answer the question, no, I do not think free will really exists; that is, if we define “free will” as the idea that our choices determine the future. In the grand scheme of things, there’s only one “future” that will occur, and everything we decide to say or do has no effect on it.

For all intents and purposes though, we do have free will. Just because your past experiences, environmental conditions, and historical context are leading you to make one inevitable choice doesn’t make it not a “decision” in any useful sense of the word.

But don’t misunderstand me. Just because I think free will is an illusion doesn’t mean that I somehow believe that there’s an invisible man in space who’s decided how things are going to play out. Number one, because that conclusion doesn’t at all follow from this premise, and number two, because that conclusion makes far less sense than its atheistic alternatives.

2 + 2 = 4, not because someone designed it that way. 2 + 2 = 4 because… well, that’s just the way it is.

The Times, They Are A-Changing (do I need to send Bob Dylan a check for that?)

Alright, humans. It’s pretty obvious I haven’t been posting as often as has become commonplace. This has been due to several variables, but mostly because I’ve been busy. Trying to find a new job isn’t easy.

Excuses aside, I’ve decided to take Black Jeezus down a different path.

Here’s the breakdown. I’ve always done, I think, my best writing when I don’t care who I offend. Some of you might remember my response to the whole Don’t Be a Dick debate that was pervading the atheist blogosphere a while back. That argument still stands, and my opinion on the subject remains more-or-less unchanged.

I mention this because I’ve decided that, henceforth, I’m going to try to keep the unbridled rants to a minimum; even though I’ve received several keep-up-the-good-work e-mails and facebook comments, and even though my lack of beliefs remains as pure as it was when I first started up this blog.

The reason for this is pretty simple. I have a religious family. Blasphemy, to me, is a victimless crime. But it’s come to my attention that they take such comments personally, even though not a single post or subject has been directed at them. I may not give a flying fuck about how other people think of me, but I care about my parents.

This is not to say that Black Jeezus will be completely eradicated of ridicule and irreverence. Only that such posts will be fewer and further between. Many of you know that I come from a pastoral family; some have asked me if my atheism has had an effect on my relationship with them. I’m pleased to say that, so far, it hasn’t. I respect them, they respect me. Fortunately, my father isn’t the fire-and-brimstone, vote-yes-on-Prop-8, non-Christians-are-scum type of preacher that I’ve come to despise. He and I obviously disagree philosophically, but that’s about as far as the contention goes. I love my parents and still consider them positive role models, and they still love and support me.

Be that as it may, I am who I am. I think Christianity should, and indeed needs to be criticized. The difference is that I’m now going to try to make my posts more of an invitation for respectful discussion.

If my blogging has taught me anything, however, it’s that no matter how tame or respectful my criticisms of religion are, there will always be someone that takes offense. As Dan Dennett observed some time ago, it seems there is no “nice” way to ask, “Have you ever considered the possibility that these beliefs you hold so dear, are based on a complete lie?”

Yet, this is an important question. It is the question. And it must be answered. And these “sacred” beliefs must be poked, and prodded, and examined, and there are always going to be people that don’t like having their worldview disrupted by scrutiny. To these people, I say… tough. Religion has been getting a free ride for far too long, and if no one else is going to stand up to the people that threaten to take away my right to live free of other people’s dogma, then it’s got to be me. If you don’t like it, then avert your eyes.

To the rest of you, I expect you to hold me accountable. If you think my logic is flawed, say so. If you think I made an error, point it out. Because I put in a lot of time and energy to make sure my arguments are solid and your silence helps no one, religious and non-religious alike. But if you are going to say something, do your homework. Learn your logical fallacies. Avoid special pleading. And expect the things you say to be scrutinized as well.

Aside from that, nothing has changed. I still place all gods in the same epistemological category as fairies, ghosts, heaven, hell, astrology, Santa Claus, spirits, demons, leprechauns, Teletubbies, elves, goblins, centaurs, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, chi, angels, the lost city of Atlantis, the devil, wookies, body thetans, the Tooth Fairy, and Harry Potter. Which is to say, I do not and will not believe in any of these things, until someone (as in, a real, live human being) can show me good evidence that any one of them exists.

Acutally, Harry Potter might be real. Disregard that one.

Until then, I will remain a happy-go-lucky atheist and skeptic. A lover of science, reason, and Star Wars. And I’ll post some random thoughts here-and-there, whenever I feel led to mention or examine a particular event, person, or belief.

That is all.

Something-You-Already-Knew of the Day: Atheists Know More About Religion than Religious People, Study Finds

This should surprise no one.

Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.

On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.

It’s easy to see why this is true. The people who know a lot about religion are the people who ask a lot of questions. And the people who ask a lot of questions eventually find that religion either doesn’t have any answers or offers answers that don’t make any sense.

God Dies

This, I can tell you, is right on. To think that this was written eighty-or-so years ago really lays waste to the whole “New Atheism” shtick.

GOD DIES

No one ever came to me and said, “You’re a fool. There isn’t such a thing as God. Somebody’s been stuffing you.” It wasn’t a murder. I think God just died of old age. And when I realized that he wasn’t any more, it didn’t shock me. It seemed natural and right.

Maybe it was because I was never properly impressed with a religion. I went to Sunday school and liked the stories about Christ and the Christmas star. They were beautiful. They made you warm and happy to think about. But I didn’t believe them. The Sunday School teacher talked too much in the way our grade school teacher used to when she told us about George Washington. Pleasant, pretty stories, but not true.

Religion was too vague. God was different. He was something real, something I could feel. But there were only certain times when I could feel it. I used to lie between cool, clean sheets at night after I’d had a bath, after I had washed my hair and scrubbed my knuckles and finger nails and teeth. Then I could lie quite still in the dark with my face to the window with the trees in it, and talk to God. “I am clean, now. I’ve never been as clean. I’ll never be cleaner.” And somehow, it was God. I wasn’t sure that it was … just something cool and dark and clean.

That wasn’t religion, though. There was too much of the physical about it. I couldn’t get that same feeling during the day, with my hands in dirty dish water and the hard sun showing up the dirtiness on the roof-tops. And after a time, even at night, the feeling of God didn’t last. I began to wonder what the minister meant when he said, “God, the father, sees even the smallest sparrow fall. He watches over all his children.” That jumbled it all up for me. But I was sure of one thing. If God were a father, with children, that cleanliness I had been feeling wasn’t God. So at night, when I went to bed, I would think, “I am clean. I am sleepy.” And then I went to sleep. It didn’t keep me from enjoying the cleanness any less. I just knew that God wasn’t there. He was a man on a throne in Heaven, so he was easy to forget.

Sometimes I found he was useful to remember; especially when I lost things that were important. After slamming through the house, panicky and breathless from searching, I could stop in the middle of a room and shut my eyes. “Please God, let me find my red hat with the blue trimmings.” It usually worked. God became a super-father that couldn’t spank me. But if I wanted a thing badly enough, he arranged it.

That satisfied me until I began to figure that if God loved all his children equally, why did he bother about my red hat and let other people lose their fathers and mothers for always? I began to see that he didn’t have much to do about hats, people dying or anything. They happened whether he wanted them to or not, and he stayed in heaven and pretended not to notice. I wondered a little why God was such a useless thing. It seemed a waste of time to have him. After that he became less and less, until he was…nothingness.

I felt rather proud to think that I had found the truth myself, without help from any one. It puzzled me that other people hadn’t found out, too. God was gone. We were younger. We had reached past him. Why couldn’t they see it? It still puzzles me.

—-Frances Farmer (1931)

Another Stupid Movie That I Will Not Be Seeing

Oh, for Pete’s sake… not this crap again.

I guess the Christmas-season-fear-mongering slash atheist-hate-fest is starting a few months early this year.

Our film industry has stumbled around looking for the next group to fear and denigrate. Homegrown terrorists? Too boring. Arabs? After 9/11 that became pretty insensitive. Neo-Nazis? Are people even scared of them still? We’ve been lost, groping blindly in the darkness.

But now one film has brought the light and shown us a new way forward: Let’s all be scared of atheists! Specifically resentful atheists who want to take away Christmas.

The direct-to-DVD Christmas with a Capital C is based on a song by the Christian Rock band Go Fish and concerns the nefarious plot by a big-city scumbag (Daniel Baldwin) to ruin Christmas for everyone in his home town. Yes, that’s right. NewsFeed should admit, the first time we saw the trailer for the film and heard its laughably on-the-nose dialogue we were convinced it was a joke: Does anyone actually believe in that tired dialectic of humble patriotic small-towners vs. smug urbanites who hate religion? Apparently some people still do. And that makes NewsFeed a little sad.

I’m actually a little surprised that they managed to get a Baldwin to be in a shitty Christian propaganda film who isn’t Stephen Baldwin.

Perhaps Stephen is busy?

For anyone not in the know, there’s no war on Christmas. Most atheists have absolutely no problem with Christmas or the people who celebrate it. What we do have a problem with are those people who think that their religious holiday is somehow not valid unless the government is endorsing it.

Since I’m pretty sure the majority of Christians aren’t aware of how many things they think they know about Christmas are wrong, I plan on elaborating a bit more in the future. But until then, please don’t bother seeing this movie. Paying for it will only encourage them to make more.