Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sex, a secular perspective, preamble

At a Humanist discussion I recently attended I heard someone ask why there is no Humanist stance on sexuality, which I found really compelling. Why isn't there a secular perspective on human sexuality? 

I think most of the problem is that in the U.S., sexuality is so demonized and marginalized that a serious, rigorous look at human sexuality that is pro-sex seems oxymoronic. I have not heard any attempt at building a new paradigm about human sexuality. And as a big philosophy of science fan, I like me a good paradigm. 

Historically, as I understand it, the anglo-american tradition of sexual attitudes basically boils down to sex is bad, but we'll tolerate it within the bounds of marriage for the purposes of procreation. And as we have become an increasingly liberal culture what we have done is keep the idea that sex is bad, but expand the list of sanctioned acts. So sex remains prohibited unless you are doing it in an allowed way. 

Well fuck all that. 

Sex is: fun, necessary for the survival of the species, good for your health, builds relationships, cheap, creates mutual trust, a stress reliever, among many many other things. 

I would like to think about sex in the same way that we think about almost all other areas of human behavior, using the standard tools of evaluation that we use for those activities. Sex is not a special case of human behavior, and to say otherwise is implicitly take on board the theological importance that it has been given. So let’s see what happens when you start with that as a premise and reason logically for a while. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Is there anything that church goers have that you wish you did?

I've begun to think about the difference between "the churched" and "the unchurched" instead of the difference between believers and non-believers. But I'm wondering if that's a real distinction and if people know of specific things that church goers have access to that atheists should figure out how to get.

Why we don't need religion to be good.

 When my mother became pregnant with me, the family cat started bringing home his kills for her. 

This is one of my favorite stories about my family, and we have a lot of good stories. But that cat (Bart was his name) was really into taking care of me and my mom. And I'm not telling this story just for kicks or for the joke; there is a point here. If you can get altruism of a creature that doesn't even have language, then you can definitely be good without god. 

One of my basic rebuttals against theists is that we do not need stories to want to be good. Empathy, altruism, generosity, care-taking etc. are all baked in. And not just baked into our biology, but into the biology of the "lower" animals; the ones that demonstrably do not have language.

I think it is important for us to consider that our animalness isn't all bad. Our evolutionary history makes us what we are. And while we are complex animal, with a wide and troubling range of behavior, there are noble qualities that are our heritage, and not a gift from on high.

The religions have demonized our "animal nature" for a long time and I think it is a kind of self hate. The line in the sand is not between emotional and rational. It is not between the spiritual and the flesh. The saved and the fallen. 

The line in the sand is between what harms and what helps. And there are helpful things that are of the flesh, that are of the fallen and of the emotional. And I think we would do well to reconsider how we divide what we are proud of and what we are ashamed of. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Not a crutch against death

The common dismissal of religion is that is a crutch for the weak against the fear of death. And while that may be true to some extent, I think that the major role of religion and religious institutions has been to provide guidance about to how to live. And that the real problem is that there is no overt mechanism to update the guidance being given.

So religions, with their intellectually devastated rationale, are forced to cling onto their Iron Age inspired, medievally edited message about Sin and an Angry God. And they are stuck with both no reason for their authority and giving bad advice.

But the impact of religion, especially to the avowed atheist, is so small that it isn't really the moral influence we need to worry about. We are surrounded by advertising and the random mythology of reality tv, public radio, video games and paper backs. And all throughout our lives we are indoctrinated into norms of dress, diet, self-presentation and hygiene; most of which we internalize and no longer realize were at some point decided for us. These sources of motivation are the ones that now need to be countered.

We all benefit from being reminded what we ought to do, and for those of us without a deliberate community the only thing we are reminded to do, is spend. Nowhere in our lives as atheists is there room, time, or context for our own values to be reinforced. There is a quote that "The only alternative to tradition is bad tradition." 

What this means is that atheism has given up fantasy and corrupt institutional authority for a faux rugged individualism. All atheism has now is the claim that the individual who doesn’t go to church is their own person, guided by only their own intellect and judgment; which is wrong on two counts.

None of us are smart or wise enough to figure out all the answers to our lives on our own. And secondly we are constantly encouraged to behave in ways that are totally orthogonal to our own values. And so I take it as unavoidable that we would be better off with an institution build to help us figure out our role in the world, and to at least fight off the values put forward by mass media, if not in fact to promote those values we endorse.

We are guided by outside messages whether we like it or not, especially those that we do not notice. And that the trouble with churches is the content of the messages they give, not with us for being effected by them. So I think it makes sense that we should form institutions that remind us of the values that we care about.