Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sexism in the Atheist Community

Let's start this out with what's happened in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church had a problem with pedophilia. That can be expected, after all Catholics are made up of the general population, and some people happen to be pedophiles. It's bound to happen in any large organization. What's important is how the organization deals with the problem.

They need to treat it like a problem: they need to report the problem to proper authorities, shame the offenders in their own community, apologize deeply to the victims, and put protective systems in place to ensure that the problem doesn't happen again in the future.

That didn't happen. What did happen was that they denied a problem, labeled it a PR problem, and tried their best to sweep it under the rug, ignore it, or blame the victims. They excused the offenders and enabled them and their anonymity by shuffling them around and did everything possible to deny that anything was a problem. When it erupted to the surface, they had to take different tactics, still just as slimy. They complained about being unfairly yolked with the blame. They did everything but address the issue and ensure that it wouldn't happen again in the future.

And that sort of response is the kind of response that I'm seeing in response to sexism within the atheist community. The atheist community has been having a problem with misogyny. And that's to be expected. After all, atheists are made of people, and some people can be misogynistic. The important thing is looking at how atheists deal with the problem. Unfortunately, there's been denial of a problem, blaming the victim, fervent apathy towards admonishing people on the internet, misguided attempts at defending free speech, and complaints about being unfairly yolked with the actual perps.

And those are all the wrong reactions. When someone in your group does something bad, the group need to react with unity in correcting the behavior. At the very least, individuals need to not interfere with those who are doing the right thing. Because otherwise it's just enabling the problem to continue. It's saying that we're okay with the status quo. We shouldn't be.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Zelda's Demonic Influences

Russell and I have been enjoying our own games - me Skyrim, and him Zelda: Skyward Sword. I've been watching him play a little bit of it, and I laughed at the scene where you pray to the goddess of Skyloft. "Devil worship! Encouraging satanic beliefs!" I could practically hear the orthodox Christians scream.

In fact, I searched for Christian reviews of Zelda, and was not disappointed.

"Tons of religious content in The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword. The goddess is all over this game. As well as the goddess reborn. For me this is a major turn off. I do not comprehend why the religious content was ignored when The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword was regionalized for a country where the majority are Christian. I understand they have that belief over there. But shoving it down our throats in a generally respected and loved franchise is going to turn people away from this franchise." - Family Friendly Gaming Review.

I'm not sure which "that belief" they have "over there" that FFGR is referring to, but I think perhaps the reviewer didn't account that it's a game that's set in a fantasy world where mythical creatures happen to live, some of them powerful enough to be called a goddess. There's no indoctrination of a religion, because it's made up. I think that Christians get their pants in a bunch when they are dealing with fantasy religions, because in their mind it's not possible to enjoy the religion as a nonexistent myth, but it offers some temptation as a real religion. That, and fantasy religions tend to have demonstrable effects in their fantasy worlds, while the Christian religion doesn't.

But when it got to the scene where Batreaux was introduced, I knew that Zelda was really going to piss some people off. Here was a demon who was really friendly. I could practically hear the arguments: Nintendo promoting siding with demons, listening to demons, helping demons! Clearly demons are not to be trusted, and yet here is the hero on a quest to help a demon. Nevermind that it's friendly, good and kind. Nevermind that it does good things. It has horns and looks satanic so it must be evil. Besides, as we all know, good works are not the judge of heavenly worth - trust in God is, and that demon and all the inhabitants of Hyrule (er, Skyloft?) are doomed.

Strangely, my search for any condemnation of Batreaux came up short. It seems that Christians were ignoring Zelda. I think they just haven't caught wind of it yet. The conservatives aren't going to be playing Zelda, and the moderates aren't going to care. It's too bad there won't be any fireworks from Focus on the Family or some other religious group, but then again I'm glad that we won't have to deal with their whining over something so unimportant. It's one more step towards putting religion in the fantasy section.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Skepticism in a Fantasy Setting (Skyrim)

I've been playing a lot of Skyrim lately, and while I went into the game blind to much of the mythology, I've enjoyed picking up and reading a lot of the books in the game. For those who don't know, the books in Skyrim are real books, usually only a few pages long, although several include multiple parts. So anytime a book has an interesting-looking title, I'll give it a go. Some are pretty awesome: The Legend of Kratley House, or The Locked Room, Wabbajack, or Thief of Virtue. I've managed to find part one of The Lusty Argonian Maid (part two has still eluded me - and I know I can cheat and find a copy in Riften, but I'm trying to find one in the wild).

But one of the more thought-provoking books has got to be Azura and the Box. I've always wondered what an atheist or a skeptic would be like in the middle of a world saturated with magic. An atheist in the kind of world where gods granted healing, boons, and cured diseases with measurable effects would be a bit like someone denying the moon landing. I've always thought it'd be a bit silly to be an atheist in a world like Tamriel, until I read this story of a skeptic in Skyrim.

In the story, a Dwarf decides to test a god. In the story setup, it's revealed that Nchylbar discovered that many of the worshipped gods are actually nonexistent. This rarely happens in fantasy worlds, but it seems like it'd be a pretty common occurrence. Fantasy people are no less gullible, and would still be wont to invent their own gods, look for false positives, or be swayed by the fervency of others. After all, in a world where some Gods definitely exist, they cease to be extraordinary claims, and many people would not require extraordinary evidence.

I've actually run into a bit of incorrectly-held beliefs in Skyrim. In one instance, a non-native of Skyrim encounters a non-magical giant bug and claims he thinks it's a daedra [demon]. In another book, a lesser demon is worshipped for powers he does not possess (the ability to dodge blessed arrows - in a twist of fate the arrow catches up with him in the end) and his followers invent stories of believers dodging "the bolts of a thousand archers, of moving through oceans without getting wet." (Vernaccus and Bourlor). Here, even in a world steeped with real magic are people believing in claims that are not at all true.

In fact, in this sort of magically-steeped world, over-ready belief would be an even greater intellectual danger than in our own world; the need for skepticism would be even greater. Imagine a very fervent Harold Camping in the world of Tamriel: how would we be able to tell whether Camping's god existed, or whether the doomsday description was accurate? In our world, Camping is easily ignored. What if he existed in Skyrim? We'd need independent confirmation of a scientific nature: double-blind consultation from various priests, peer reviewed research/divination confirmable by multiple shrines, and with plenty of documentation. Claims require evidence, and evidence requires testing.

When it comes to testing, though, that becomes even more more dangerous when dealing with the whims of a god. We have managed to test and harness nuclear reactions, but only with proper caution, research and applications of science. But gods have a mind, make them even more dangerous to study. Imagine something as powerful as an atomic bomb, but with emotions as capricious as any person, and with no vested need to keep the world alive. The scientist of a god must be a very cautious and calculated person indeed. Studying the deities would require as much tact as intellectual honesty.

And so we get to the story of Azura and the Box. In the book, the dwarf asks his friend to summon the god Azura, so that Nchylbar might test her knowledge, which she claims to be absolute. He then asks her to divine the insides of a box. She gets it wrong, thanks to some simple sleight-of-hand from the dwarf. Her own claims about her powers were exaggerated, and this man examined them, and prodded their limits. He was skeptical, and tested a god-claim, and found that the evidence didn't support the claim.

His friend was terrified, and some of his own student witnesses did not support the test he had performed. They shunned and disagreed with the skepticism and the scientific testing, claiming it to be dangerous. (And indeed, I'm not sure if I've got the lore correct, but there are claims that the dwarves race was wiped out by peeved-at-being-ignored gods.) At the end of the story, Nchylbar dies, ambiguously either by Azura's rage or from the satisfaction of one last great addition to knowledge in his old age.

But this man was bravely testing the limits of a divine power. This is what a good skeptic looks like in a world of magic and gods. He tests the existence of gods. He examines their limits, looks at their claims and suspects everything, especially from those who may have a vested self-interest in maintaining a lie, or who are too afraid to challenge a lie.

But when it comes down to it, real things have testable and repeatable natures, and nonexistent things have neither. And while technically a theist - he believes in the gods after all - he goes about testing them in ways that can actually objectively show which ones are real and which ones are fake, and some indeed are fakes. Looking at how a skeptic deals with gods in a world where gods are real starkly contrasts with our own world - no testable existence, no testable powers. I'd say Nchylbar would easily reach the conclusion that our world lacked any sort of divine influence at all.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Review of Choosing a Good Wife Part 5, Y-Z and appendix

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

U: Ultimate Marriage Buster

So what's the ultimate thing that ruins a marriage? What would you say? Abuse? Hate? Lack of love? Infidelity? Well, consider that this is a Christian, what would they say: lack of god? Disagreement on religious issues? Not enough prayer? Porn? NO! It's family planning.

You must remember, this man is a Catholic, and apparently he has bought into the Catholic notion that contraception is evil wholesale. He's already promoted having large, quiverful families, and here he apparently reveals the natural extension of that: not using birth control. Which is interesting, because even the majority of American Catholics have embraced birth control.

But not Mr. Wood. He tells us that babyless marriages lead to more divorces, so you should have kids so that you two will feel obliged stay together. Notice again he doesn't cite babies making your marriage more fulfilled, happy or joyous. The truth is they are stressful, emotionally and financially draining, and likely to increase conflict in the relationship. The majority of heater domestic abuse starts during a woman's pregnancy. But they will absolutely make you feel like you have to stick it out for the sake of the kid.

He emphasizes with twisted statistics that contraception means marriages are much more likely to fail. He seems to toe the Catholic line about sex being only for married conception; a sort of biological procreation necessity. Enjoying sex for its own sake is dangerous: it makes you selfish enough to divorce. But then, he does an inexplicable 180 and states that unlike the filthy animals, HUMAN sex is much more than just for procreation. It's also a unitive profession of love. Apparently, according to his dogma, humans somehow are not allowed to experience sex for only procreation, or only fun. They must always be intertwined.

He then mentions offhandedly that this is why "masturbation, homosexual acts, sterilization, contraception and acts consciously intended to interrupt coitus and thwart procreation" are sins. Quite a lot to throw out all at once, with absolutely no evidence - biblical or logical - to back it up. I notice also that he doesn't include postmenopausal or otherwise infertile couples in the list of forbidden matches.

And of course, despite him specifically mentioning "consciously intended to… thwart procreation" he goes on to endorse the rhythm method of contraception. Which is a method for thwarting procreation. It makes no fucking sense. I mean, I'm glad that diehard catholics have made themselves a loophole, but it's still using the science of probability to attempt and thwart contraception. Sure God could interfere if he wanted to, but he could interfere with a condom just as easily, right?

Can you tell that this is my favorite chapter so far? At the end it goes even further down the rabbit hole. "Assault against fatherhood: The contraception movement is a deceptive assault against fatherhood. As a man, one of your highest priorities in a married life is cooperating with God in bringing forth a new life. Nothing else you ever do will have such lasting importance." Sexual pleasure without the risk is apparently a deceptive form of castration. You have to be sure that you marry a woman who will comply with your request to be a baby machine for you. I think that the crazy here speaks for itself.

The biblical justification: "Be fruitful and multiply". Also, a passage in deuteronomy where grabbing a man's junk will get a woman's hand chopped off to justify how important a man's ability to procreate is: More important than a woman's ability to use her hands.

V: Vocation of Marriage

Here by vocation of marriage he means, quite literally, a job. Marriage is a job, and if god has assigned you that job then you had better well do it. He gives not too terrible advice, reminding the reader to spend time with their family, to not let a rich well-paying job get in the way of quality time with the wife and kids.

However, I'm not sure how the author expects men to pull this off. We already know you're supposed to have as many kids as you can, so how are you supposed to support them? The women aren't supposed to work, here he tells men to reject high-paying jobs, and earlier he even suggests that men take up two jobs to handle the financial responsibilities. He's creating this impossible scenario that eats away the family financial stability at both ends and creates unrealistic expectations. Someone who follows his advice would end up living very close to the poverty line setting back progress and society. He would have us return to a darker age.

It only makes sense that the end of the chapter advocates making time by getting rid of all those beeping electronic gadgets. Technology is scary and dangerous.

W: Wine - a Blessing and a Marriage Buster

Interestingly, here Wood takes a stance that's more permissive than I would have guessed. He calls alcohol a blessing, and indeed the scripture does have Jesus turning water to wine (and he references this!). He mentions that he enjoys wine with his wife, and that he witnessed a lot of drinking while serving in Guatanamo. I feel that he gives some leniency with alcohol merely because that's his personal vice. Considering his stance on premarital dating, that he allows alcohol threw me for a loop.

Interestingly enough, because he calls alcohol a "blessing", I feel that he would regard my personal decision to teetotal yet another rejection of God's Blessings. I think I fail his criteria at every single turn.

He goes on to advocate very serious warning about alcoholism though. First off, he blames alcohol for domestic abuse. This is absolutely not true. Alcohol can serve as a trigger domestic abuse, but the root of the problem is an abusive person. I can't tell you how many times I've heard women excuse abuse by blaming drugs and alcohol, but in truth the abuser demands power and control continuously, drugged or not.

He also warns against marrying a loose woman who likes to enjoy alcohol too much. She must not be "the life of the party". Here it is saying that you must like a woman who is modest and reserved, who subjugates herself and is not too boisterous or outgoing.

X: X-ray Her Words and Her Heart

Ha, X is always X-ray.

Here he gives a page of good advice, which sadly corresponds with it being one of the shortest chapters in the book. Practice listening, listen to what the woman is actually saying. That's great advice! Empathy and understanding and listening are key to a relationship.

But then the very next page contains its own facepalm, with a section titled, "The consequences of marrying a woman with an unruly tongue." It goes on to single out women, and warn the man against a woman who bitches about things all the time.

The biblical justification: "A wife's quarreling is a continual dripping of rain." Comparing a wife to Chinese water torture, ouch. Of course, considering the time, the woman was probably bitching about stuff like being sold off by her father, her requirement to keep her head covered, and her inability to teach the scripture. Women are such bitches, amirate?

Now it's not bad advice to say that you should marry someone who says kind things instead of cruel things. In fact, the best predictor of divorce is the ratio of positive-to-negative interactions (6:1 is the bare minimum, 10:1 is on track). But the book doesn't call out the man to watch his tongue. It just says to make sure you watch your wife's tongue. And it did it by calling such women "unruly". Might as well go whole-hog and just call them uppity.

Y: Your Move! What are you waiting for?

Modern Society has really befuddled things with this notion of equality. Let's simplify it: Men woo and women get wooed. So man up, go out there are engage! Once you have followed all the steps in the book, of course. Don't be afraid of commitment, God has your destiny chosen, and so your marriage will be great. You know, if you don't rush into it before really making sure that you're hearing God clearly.

Z: Zero in on What I'm Saying

This chapter just exists to reinforce that all this shit is necessary, because it's in the bible. You need to listen, you need to do. You need to engage in archaic family courtship, you need an accountability partner, you need to follow proper sexual morality. Also, don't worry because God will give you a wife.


The Personal Courtship Commitments contract was just so awesome, and summed up the book so perfectly, I felt that it would be best to include the whole thing. So here it is transcribed. Note that it is labeled a "Sample" but it's obviously what the author feels to be the best example of such a contract.

I, (NAME), hereby designate (NAME) as my accountability partner regarding the standards and commitments in my personal courtship plan listed below.

Brief description of accountability item (ABC's chapter number). By referring to the ABC's chapter number, you are giving a fuller meaning and context to your brief commitment statement.

I will not date, court, or marry an immodest woman. (Ch.1)

I will take the time to really get to know the family of any woman that I am interested in. (Ch.2)

I will not overlook dysfunctions in family background (Ch.2)

I will not engage in premarital sexual relations or cohabitation. We will not spend extensive time alone during our courtship and engagement. (Ch.3)

I will not allow excessive career pursuits to put aside marriage and family life. (Ch.5)

I will not marry someone desiring a permanent full-time career, even when we have young children. (Ch.7)

I will only marry with the full blessing of her parents and mine. (Ch.8)

I will court and marry someone who fully shares my faith. (Ch. 9)

To safeguard our relationship, we will postpone physical affection until we are married. (Ch. 10)

My fiancee and I will take a premarital inventory before publicly announcing our engagement. (Ch. 12)

I will marry someone who fully shares my commitment to the Church's teaching on sexuality. Once engaged, my fiancee and I will take classes on Natural Family Planning. (Ch. 21)

I will not marry a binge drinker or a person who gets drunk. (Ch. 23)

I promise to notify my accountability partner whenever I think that I might have an interest in courting someone. I give full permission to my accountability partner to use any lawful means to hold me accountable to my personal plan. [No Saving Silverman, awww]

After serious reflection and with a firm reliance upon the grace of God, I commit myself to these standards when choosing a wife.

{Space for signatures}

It's just so full of archaic advice, okay advice and then completely out of left field bad advice. It's ridiculous. I can't believe that he thinks someone would agree and go along with this. He spends one more page hammering home the importance of having someone else help you stay accountable to these standards. Because he knows you won't stay accountable to them by yourself.

The Screwtape Letter

There is one final appendix, and it's just bizarre. It references C.S. Lewis' fictional demon Screwtape, and then gives a fanfiction letter on Screwtape's view on internet pornography. Apparently this demon is jumping up and down at porn's ability to mess up boys and ruin their sex lives. He stresses the importance of not allowing Christians to know about pornography's detrimental effects so that they can continue wreaking havoc. It attempts to be clever, but is over-the-top and just ridiculous. Here are a few choice excerpts.

"With Internet pornography we can finally bring down the guardians of the Christian family. The fools still don't realize that the technological temptations are waging war against their very souls, bringing to completion a more-than-a-century-long-campaign to destroy the Faith by destroying family."

"A husband's pornography addiction has shown a unique ability to undermine trust and intimacy between spouses."

"Finally, we must keep up our guard against the Head of THAT family. Never forget how the Head of THAT family was used by the Enemy to ruin or dear servant Herod's plans to kill the so-called Holy One."

"Just be sure they don't discover the Enemy's perfect model for husbands and father, or our plans will get derailed."

Yours diabolically, Screwtape

It's just like some kind of 80's cartoon villain who loudly proclaims his evil plans to his minions and expresses exactly how it could be unraveled, hoping that the good guy isn't around to listen. It's just so transparent. I am not sure if he thinks he's being genuinely clever.

The whole book is just so ridiculous and crazy that it's hard to believe at points. Looking through the very back of the book, I noticed that there's a similar guide for women, "The ABC's of Choosing a Good Husband." I'm pretty tempted to pick that one up and read about all the mistakes I made in choosing Russell.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Review of Choosing a Good Wife Part 4, P-T

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

P: Pray for a Good Wife

The inspirational story: A man went to go pray for a wife at a school chapel and then ran into a girl whom he dated and then later married. Praying had immediate and tangible results! What a compelling testament to his faith!

Of course, what makes this story so compelling is how unusual it is. Usually prayer doesn't work in such a predictable manner. Typically when you pray, there's no answer, sign or direct benefit. Usually when you pray, it's like nothing happened at all. But of course, this story is used to say that god will provide. This story is a bit on the creepy side, because it really seems to imply that the woman's consent is not really needed. The guy prayed, and then god assumedly made the woman respond.

More than likely though, the man just had dating on his mind, saw a nice, eligible religious woman, and introduced himself. The story even admits that they vaguely knew of each other before, and he had just then taken it upon himself to ask her out. He got some placebo swagger from the prayer, and the context put her in a new light. It could have been anyone. I've definitely been in that situation of not thinking of someone romantically until the right context was provided.

The biblical story: Abraham sent his slave out of the country to buy a wife for Isaaic. Rebekah was brought back and immediately fell in love with her new husband. (Genesis 24:64-65)

Wow, this story was so ridiculous that I can hardly believe that it's in here, but given what this guy has endorsed in the past, it's not too much of a surprise. He really seems to be promoting this idea of a parent-led courtship, and the natural extreme of that is an arranged marriage. And of course, since the marriage is arranged by God through the father, it will all turn out in the end. It's just this weird idolizing of subservience - especially on the part of the woman - and allowing your parents and God to control your life.

Christian Advice: In this chapter, he fully exposes his Catholic bias, I suppose figuring that by now even the heathen Protestants would be willing to listen to Catholic superior knowledge. He advises men to pray to the holy family and to the archangel Raphael, because of the story in the book of Tobit. The idea of the demigods helping out is certainly not new, but it certainly won't do anything special either.

At the very end of the chapter, there is a bit of good advice you could sift out: try to meet people at events you enjoy. Not bad. Of course you have to wade through all this crap to get it, but that's pretty similar to the bible.

Q: Questions to Ask Before Saying "I Do"

This chapter really is just a list of questions, with a little bit of preface that the tougher ones such as "health status, previous marriages, and abusive family situations" should be asked by a priest or a premarital counselor. Which is odd; why wouldn't you be able to discuss those things yourself with the person you will be married to? Wouldn't you like to know, for example, the sexual health status of your future mate? How about why they got divorced?

Anyway, here are some of the more ridiculous questions.

Which of your parents paid the monthly bills for your family? (Not sure why this is important? I guess it's to make sure she comes from a gender-typical family.)

Which of your parents led family prayer time, if you had one? (Again, not sure on the purpose. I guess to make sure that she's religious and that her father led stuff, like he should.)

Who do you think should be primarily responsible for a child's discipline: the father or the mother? (Again, deciding if she adheres to gender roles)

Are you more outgoing or private? (This question doesn't seem appropriate to ask at any stage in the relationship. If you don't know them too well, then it's a bit forward, if you do know them a bit, then you should be able to figure it out).

Do you take any exceptions to the moral teachings of the Church? (You certainly wouldn't want one of those rebellious types).

R: Romeo Online

For all the precautions against falling into sin in previous chapters, this one is curiously devoid of the temptations of cyber sex. Indeed, it seems that Mr. Wood believes that writing is a good way to keep a romance chaste. He goes out of his way to idolize the past, and gives this excerpt from an 1808 smitten lover, "Excepting my obligation to God, my heart, my affections, my undivided and unreserved love are yours." He claims that any woman would swoon over this line, but I think I'd prefer someone who knows the definition of "unreserved". Apparently, Wood thinks that in the past people writing to each other were saints, but allow me to counter that with another excerpt, one from A Valediction: Forbidden Mourning from 1611.

"Anne, you and I are like the pointed legs of a compass

And though it in the centre sit,

Yet when the other far doth roam,

It leans and hearkens after it,

And grows erect, as that comes home."

Quite dirty, I'd say.

After pining for a more elegant time of written correspondence, he shows his age by believing that all youth communicate with horrible AOL "Wassup" slang. WTF, ROFL.

At the end, he recommends Christian-specific dating websites, but warns that not all of them are Christian enough (and indeed 90% of lay chartrooms should be avoided completely). He does run into a bit of a sticky situation with recommending dating sites, however. Consider this: If you are indeed using a Christian dating site, then you are taking the initiative in the relationship; it's out of the parent's hands. This is too far removed from a parent-arranged meeting. How on earth can you get the parents involved to supervise the relationship?

No joke, he suggests starting out on your second correspondence with a lady by asking her for her father's number to ask for permission to court. He admit this seems extreme, but insists that it is necessary and charming. I find it very creepy and controlling.

S: Scarcity of Women

Here he addresses the "forever alone" whiners who complain about the lack of good-enough women. I would imagine what they mean is the lack of subservient-enough women.

Here he urges men to expand their horizons: get involved with the church in new ways, give single women around them a chance, and get involved with online Christian dating sites. He assures us that using a dating site is not "desperate": meeting people in secular locations like a singles bar is desperate.

The inspirational tale: A woman restricted her dating pool on a christian website to men in her area. One man decided that he really wanted her and pursued her, explaining that he'd travel across the country to pick up a million-dollar prize if he needed, and she was better than that. They're now married.

This is actually a very creepy tale. Having studied abusive relationships, they often start with this whirlwind of romantic gestures, but still tied in with a lack of boundaries. This man didn't respect her wishes to date in her area. He didn't think that he should have to respect her desires, and that's even before they met or exchanged any sort of meaningful conversations. This man won't accept no. His falling so head-over-heels and idolizing her will lead to disappointment when she can't live up to his impossible standards, and he will become angry and blame her. I can't even imagine how their relationship will turn out. To hold this up as a positive example of a healthy relationships just boggles me.

T: To have and To Hold

Citing the catechism, Wood warns us that divorce (or "Christian divorce") is not an option. The bible says that you can't get divorced, so you have to make sure that the decision is one that lasts for a lifetime. He says that once you're in, you're stuck, so you'd better be very certain that you're ready for a lifelong commitment. Not even a caveat for abuse, hate, or someone falling out of their religion. Now of course, marriage is a personal decision. You should be able to get out whenever you want. If the two of you have a 5-minute marriage plan, well that's your decision. Your marriage should last as long as you both shall want.

But of course, he does allow that one biblical out: death. Apparently once one of you goes to heaven, the other is free to cheat around until they meet up again in heaven again. This might seem like an oversight, but it certainly does make sense when you consider what used to be the purpose of marriage: large batches of children, and an assurance of the man's offspring being his. If one dies, they have to get remarried to keep those goals going, and in fact the bible does contain commands for a widow to marry her brother-in-law. Of course, this edict is skipped as well. Nearly every time the bible gives explicit relationship legal advice, this book seems to skip over it.

Next Episode: The Ultimate Marriage Buster

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Review of Pornography: Slaying the Dragon

Thanks to a very generous fan, I got myself a used copy of the anti-fun propaganda Pornography: Slaying the Dragon by David Powlison. It was hilariously awful.

Let me start by stating my position on pornography: it's great as long as all parties involved are safe and consenting adults. Pretty basic stuff. Once all of that is satisfied, porn is a fantastic source of recreation, much like gaming or exercising or cooking or watching regular movies. Masturbation is just a natural source of fun that's safe, cheap and satisfying.

Now of course because of all those things, the church absolutely hates masturbation and porn and vilifies it. It makes something natural and safe into something evil and shameful. It creates this shame out of the human condition just so that religion can offer this salvation to the guilt through prayer and forgiveness. But of course, for the majority of people, it's an unachievable goal. In much the same way that the symbol for virginity is a sieve carrying water, it's enshrining the impossible and creating a need for forgiveness when people fall short of that physical impossibility.*

But of course, they still try. And so we have propaganda like this. David Powlison's Pornography: Slaying the Dragon sells hope to those trying to achieving the impossible. It's a 20-page small book where "Bob" is being interviewed by "DP". Heh. It's a manifestation of this disturbing hate for porn, and the creation of need for God. It even goes out of its way to admit that. "God's love broke the shackles, the bondage to this sexual idol, and caused me to cry out to him for help. He keeps reminding me that I must keep relying on him." And indeed, in the typical Christian propaganda style, it offers very little advice other than the obvious, and instead focuses on the difficulty and the perverse nature of the invented problem and the absolute necessity for God to intervene and help. It creates this need and then offers the solution. Also, "bondage". Heh again.

The book starts out with a description of a normal and healthy formation of a teenage sex drive. "[T]he material I looked at became extremely explicit. I developed habits of masturbation, and I developed elaborate sexual fantasies about women I actually knew." Normal behavior. But of course, it's treated as disgusting and reprehensible. "I knew that looking at sexually explicit material and spinning fantasies were wrong. I was full of guilt and struggled a lot to overcome it." As he got older, he maintains the guilt, "My mind engaged in a secret life that I sough to have satisfy me."

They never really explain why it was wrong, why he wracked himself with guilt. They can't give any good reasons, because it's just arbitrary. That's the kind of arbitrary morality system you get when you believe that morality comes from God: shit just often doesn't make sense, and you are a horrible person. Later, they do explain why porn is wrong: it distracts you from God. That's it. They don't even try to give it some kind of real-world implications. Just that God is jealous and demands that you give him all your thought, all your positive emotions, all your mind. "You can't serve two masters. You can't serve me [God] and your sexual idolatry. You have to choose one." God can't stand knowing that you are greatly enjoying something that doesn't involve HIM. Imagine if that logic was applied to other things. You can't enjoy coffee, air conditioning, books, socials, knitting, they distract from God. Imagine that. "You can't serve God and your knitting idolatry," how much sense does that make?

He continues, "God was gracious, and I overcame a lot of temptations. Sometimes I would go six months between indulgences in pornography." This is absolutely hilarious. God was so merciful and so greatly desired for me to pay attention to only Him that He only made it something that torments me constantly and helps me stop sometimes. To borrow from the Epicurus-attributed quote, Is God willing to prevent masturbation, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is pervy. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh porn? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God? He goes on to brag about how he stunted his sexual healthy by refraining from having premarital sex, and by eventually willing the porn think out of his mind for good.

And of course, he used to think about about porn a lot. Because he never allowed himself to masturbate (6 month stretches at a time, you'll recall), he would fantasize about women constantly: imagining women he knew in porn situations, looking hungrily at the singles area in (gasp!) church, and even attempting to make his wife more like a playboy bunny. It's tricky to tell because of all the hyperbole, but it sounds like he has a distorted view of sex as something shameful with objects, and he just hates on those objects. He says, "I divided women into sex objects and friends, and the two categories never mixed together." Even Cracked authors know that it's healthy to be friends with the person you're fucking. It sounds like this guy tried so hard to distance himself from seeing sex as normal that he made the women he lusted after into just objects instead of people with their own drives to make them easier to reject. His rejection of porn was coupled with him objectifying women. And that's a point I think that doesn't get made enough. By treating women as these tempting harlots - instead of just normal people - he made these women into objects and did not treat them as a person. The religious thoughts and the rejection of porn is what made him objectify women.

Sometimes the concerns he has about porn are just so incredibly out there in left field that I have to wonder what the hell is wrong with this man: does he really believe that these are consequences of porn, or is he actually on the verge of being a legitimate skeeve? He lets us know that thankfully, "God preserved me so I didn't make my daughter a sex object. I saw her as my daughter and respected her as that." Did he really think that watching porn would make him fantasize about his daughter? What the actual fuck? Later he also asks, "Would I commit adultery if I had an opportunity? Would I go on to molest children? Would I get aroused homosexually? I saw I was capable of anything." That little quote right there is just so full of backwards logic, that it's staggering. He doesn't seem to realize how same-sex attraction works, you don't stare at boobs long enough until you realize that it's not enough and you go after cock instead. He also seems to think that's how child porn works: one day you just run out of adults to look at so you go after the younger generation. But that's what happens when you have this negative view of normal sexuality, the deviations are given equal weight to the normal, and a healthy enjoyment is not allowed to form.

He goes on to brag about the sex life he now has. He doesn't retreat to porn when she isn't in the mood. He claims he doesn't get angry at, or manipulate his wife now, but she's now the only sexual outlet he has in his life. If she doesn't consent to sex, he won't let himself get off. That's a lot of unfair pressure on the one partner; she shouldn't have to be solely responsible. That burden IS a form of manipulation. He goes on to describe what sounds like a pretty unhealthy relationship. "I used to get self-righteous and even use Bible verses to criticize her. I've got a long way to go… I've asked God to help me see my wife as a person, not a sex object… I've also learned to forgive her for things she's done to me… I really want to freely forgive her." Again, this just sounds like he's blaming his wife for getting him hot and bothered, for switching on those lustful thoughts. Luckily, he's kind enough to forgive her for those trespasses.

So let's get down to brass tacks. How can you quit porn? Well, apparently going to a counselor 10 years ago didn't help. Neither really did having an accountability partner. What he does is cry out to god for help when he starts to feel lust coming on. "Right now I'm being seduced by the dragon of my soul. Help." Properly embracing Jesus Christ ended up saving him from falling into sin. But of course, that was the technique that he had been using since he was a teenager. So what actually changed? He mentions an experience with a man who confessed to wanting to have an affair, but I feel like that wasn't quite it either. He never explicitly comes out and says it, but it sounds like years upon years of self-hate, loathing and disgust finally pushed the thoughts out of his mind, much like achievement of true double-think at the end of 1984. He succeeded in killing his sex drive. And he decided to write this book to inspire others to do the same.

*(For those who identify as asexual or have little or no drive. That's normal too. Like natural blondes, the hair bleaching companies are not going after you.)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Review of Choosing a Good Wife Part 3, K-O

Part 1

Part 2

K: Know Yourself and Your Future Mate

I almost fainted. This is the second chapter that actually has some good marital advice. Just like the bible, however, you have to really dig through muck and wrong information to find it.

The good stuff: If there's a problem in the relationship, don't assume that it'll get better. Weigh whether this issue getting worse is a deal breaker (because they're likely putting more effort into it now than they will later). Wow, solid advice?!

Of course, Wood recommends getting to take the time to slowly get to know your partner very well before settling down, so that you can iron these issues out beforehand. (Well, you will know them very well except for how well they can kiss.) Of course, this is where stuff gets confusing. If you're not supposed to go out on dates, and you're not supposed to hold out too long lest you fall into the temptation of sin, how are you supposed to get to know your partner?

Under the watchful gaze of her family. You must do everything with her family, with your family. It just emphasizes the creation of this unbreakable social tie to the husband, to the family, to the church, making it so that leaving any part of it becomes that much more difficult.

It's hilarious because they emphasize not making decisions in a fit of lust, but if you can't have sex until marriage. I can see how that would prevent lustful desires overpowering you.

L: Love is Blind - but Premarital Inventories Aid Sight Recovery

This chapter is filled with suggestions for other Christian companies that offer premarital counseling and programs. The book has been doing a steady job of telling the reader that not only is this a hard decision, but it is one that you must make while balancing impossible standards of morality. It warns you that your own judgement is weak, that it requires this mysterious other to keep it going, and here is happily gives you resources to the others. I can only imagine the filth these premarital counselors give; if the book is merely a gateway, I'm worried about what the hardcore stuff tells its audience.

Now of course, premarital counseling is a good idea. Russell and I got a discount on our marriage certificate by taking one, and it was pretty fun. Guides on how to have healthy relationships wasn't as class I got to take until college, and honestly more people need to learn the basics like how to have a healthy argument, how to have a good rapport, and how to be accommodating. Even regular-day people don't get these messages from media: the last time I read Cosmo / Men's Health, the advice included crap about lying, tricking, and manipulating (eg: insult her a little to make her like your challenge, flirt with others to make him jealous, pretend like you're busy when you're not, etc, etc). People need good relationship advice and premarital counseling is a good way to get that.

The problem is that usually Christian-based services care less about what works than they do about what the bible says. The bible says women are subservient, so they glorify the woman's role of being herded by her husband. There's no emphasis on equality or egalitarian roles (which does correlate with happy healthy relationships and good conflict resolution skills).

M: Marriage is a Sacrament - a Mystery of Grace and Love

I absolutely love the title of this chapter. Marriage, what is it? I dunno, some kind of mystery! Interestingly enough, that mystery never does get explained. It's just a "sacrament" or a "covenant". This chapter decries how the government has tried to take the magic out of a marriage by defining it and giving it rules. That apparently is horrible to this mysterious mystery of a sacred sacrament.

The biblical justification: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it"

They also compare marriage to the unity of the burning love within holy trinity, making this into some kind of weird threesome of a relationship between the two married people and Jesus. Perhaps this threesome is the mystery that is being so heavily alluded to.

More biblical context: "As Moses was told to remove his shoes before the burning bush because he was standing on holy ground, so with reverence are we to regard the sacrament of marriage".

I uh, what? Kind of a weird tie-in.

N: Narcissistic Women

The sexist advice: Well, this whole chapter, for sure. I will say that it's generally very good advice to avoid someone who has an inflated ego, but if your religion tells you that women are inherently inferior to men, then your definition of an inflated ego is someone who thinks they're equal to you.

Among the warning signs are someone with good looks, wears makeup, has intelligence, talent or wealth. She is more likely to attribute these blessings to her own self-motivation instead of god. If you've read the original Stepford Wives, this is the sort of stuff the Stepford Husbands were complaining about. He also warns against damaged women from broken homes. The author instead urges men to seek women who are more modest and humble (read: they won't believe that they deserve better.)

O: Occasional Fights are Okay - Really!

The good stuff: In the middle of this book, right after the chapter about uppity women, is a chapter that's nearly completely good advice with just a few bible verses sprinkled in. Not surprisingly, it's the chapter that the author embarrassingly admits is based on "secular" research. It's all about how to have a fight that doesn't devolve into hurt. The basics of that, quickly:

1. Avoid personalizing the fight with insults. Discuss only the single issue.

2. If you need a break, say so and take time to come back later. Don't keep going in a heightened state.

3. Extend an olive branch and accept olive branches from your partner.

4. Make sure that the positive interactions in your marriage far outweigh the negatives.

They even mention PREP (premarital training) and that there are Christian alternatives.

The biblical justification: "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger". There are two other proverbs that say about the same thing. While this doesn't add much, I'd like to point out how, as advice, it pales in comparison to the knowledge added by secular research. Look how little the bible verse adds to the knowledge of how to treat a partner. It's almost like a fortune cookie message. Research has inspired this chapter, not god.

Next Episode: Pray for a Good Wife