Thursday, April 2, 2009

Comfort's Take on Relationships, Will it Never End?

Having been talking about Kirk Cameron's take on relationships quite a bit, I have been referred to his partner Ray Comfort's latest blog post about relationships, sex and marriage. I intend to thoroughly rip it apart.

But perhaps before I do that you might be wondering what makes me a better authority than Ray on relationships. Aside from the fact that like anyone else other than Ray Comfort I am able to use my brain, I have actually studied extensively about what makes a healthy relationship and how sex physiologically works in my pursuit of a biopsychology degree. I have worked on several educational projects and have neatly studied how sex, love and romance actually, physiologically, chemically works.

Let the shredding commence:

"Lust and the pleasures of sex"

We're actually off to a good start here. A promising title. I assure you, it's misleading. There's not that much extolling the pleasures of sex, just chastising them. He starts off with a quote:

"'Ray teaches that lust in the heart is a sin. Lust is a biological impulse, not a freely chosen activity.' Chris Blanchard"

Okay, a few things I have to disagree with here, dear Chris. First of all, you do not lust in your heart. Lust, like every other emotion, is in your brain (and gonads, and blood stream). The heart's just a muscle. You wouldn't say, oh "lust is in your hamstrings", or "lust is in your pectorals". Let's get over the archaic notion that the heart is the center of your emotions. There are emotional system in the center of the brain, and those control your emotions.

Secondly, but saying that lust is a "biological impulse" should never be used to defend anything. Taking a piss is also a biological impulse, but the majority of us have learned to contain that impulse to socially acceptable venues. Some biological impulses are also negative, such as the impulse to bash dumb fundies over the head in the hopes to dispel the demons of unreason, but alas, such a biological impulse must also be contained.

Thirdly, Chris, I am not sure if Ray only partially quoted you, but you seem to leave off as your argument saying only that we can't control lust. You seem a bit apologetic, so let me fix your answer. There's not a damn thing wrong with lust! Show me what is bad about lusting. Give me a rational argument why lust is bad. Don't point to some mamby-pamby "sin" cop-out. First of all, I've yet to find a good explanation for what "sin" is. What is it? Why does it permeate us? Why only humans? Even if you say that sin is just something that harms us and damages our ability to achieve higher happiness, that's a claim that can be scientifically demonstrated, and I would like you to demonstrate it. Do not apologize that lust 'can't be helped'. On a tangent, that's the same argument for the positiveness of gay people that I also dislike. Don't promote gay rights by saying that they are biologically determined, promote gay right by saying there's nothing the fuck wrong with it to begin with.

"Before we look at the issue of whether or not lust is a sin, let's define the word. Lust is "unlawful" desire. It is not to be confused with the sex drive."

These two sentences just made my brain hurt with their sheer ignorance. I know I could point out that the biological chemicals that make up 'lust' and 'sex drive' are the same. A fellow who is married and horny for his wife releases just the same chemicals as a fellow who is unwed and horny (mainly testosterone in both males and females). It's unclear why Ray Comfort thinks that the same testosterone that makes your sex drive would not make lust. Now, people who are in caring relationships do release a constant low level of oxytocin (aka the cuddle hormone) that keep them in love even when they aren't jumping each others' bones. Perhaps this is what Ray is getting at? But that's the deep connection love, not the sex drive. Two people with just oxytocin and no testosterone would have no sex drive. They would just be very cuddly. I guess all Ray is really advocating is that you need to cuddle after sex.

But no, of course that's not what he's shilling.

"God gave us the pleasures of sex, but it came with an instruction Book. The Bible tells us that it is to be confined to the institution of marriage. That's the rule."

First "unlawful" and now "instruction Book". He really seems to be saying that you should be following god's bullshit laws. Because any atheist familiar with the bible know about all the marriage laws such as raping a woman and paying off her father when they get married. You might be right that "no adultery" is one of the rules in the bible, but there are plenty more that according to god carry equal weight (I certainly hope you're not preventing pregnancy with birth control, or masturbating after sex, whichever way you interpret Oninism). There are so many horrid biblical marriage laws, that I don't even know where to start. I've many of them in a previous post.

Now since he has already differentiated between pre-marital "lust" and post-marital "sex drive", and now told us that the pleasures of sex and the sex drive must be contained to marriage, I am aware of an unpleasant implication. You must not be sexually attracted to your spouse before marriage. The sight of your boyfriend, girlfriend, fiance must not lustfully excite you. You should treat them as you would a sibling or a friend (unless of course, you are sexually attracted to either of those, in which case do the opposite). Ah, but why would you marry someone who does not sexually attract you? If you have no sexual drive, why get married at all?

Luckily, if we look to the biblical history of pairings, we have the answer: arranged marriages. It is the perfect solution! Two young unhorny teens will be guided into life-long matrimony by their parents, often without the danger of seeing each other first, thus minimizing the risk of falling into lust. Once they are forced together, they will hopefully learn to become sexually attracted to each other, because they have no other choice. Unless they're male, of course. Then they can just get another wife or enslave the neighboring tribe's virgins.

"All around us we see privileges that come with rules. If you have the privilege of driving a vehicle, the rule in the United States is that you stay to the right side of the road. Drive on the left and you will cause big problems."

Even if you are dumb/rebellious/jackass enough to drive on the wrong side of the road, I am almost certain that the legal punishment would be nowhere near torture every day for the rest of your life forever. And when it comes to marriage, I am not even sure that this is a good analogy. Perhaps it would be more like, driving on the opposite side of a very long driveway that both you and your spouse drive on. If you both choose to drive on the left, then where's the harm? If you both choose the right, then again no harm. It's only when you go opposite directions that indeed, there could be a collision. But unless there are kids, the only victims are each other, really.

And now I have to ask, how is getting married a privilege? I suppose legally there are certain laws, but other than age I think most of those other restrictions are superfluous. For the time being there are many frivolous restrictions on who can get married. Saint Valentine was considered a hero because he married Christians when it was against some frivolous Roman law.

Of course, religiously and personally there aren't really restrictions. I can make any sort of religious marriage I want. You want to have a religious marriage ceremony with your plant? Form a church of chlorophyllsophy. And as for personally, anyone can ask anyone else "will you marry me?" and the other can respond "yes" and bam whizzo, the rest is fluff. After all, in a religious ceremony you are just repeating that dialogue inside of a holy building, but I am pretty sure god saw it the first time. (For us atheists, I am pretty sure you both remember saying it the first time.) Anyone can get personally married. I don't really need to ask permission. There is no authority that can take that away, so I am not sure what he means by "privilege".

"Think of the marriages that have been destroyed because the rules were broken. Think of the STDs that plague humanity because the rules were broken."

Ah yes, STDs are the plague of broken rules. Let's set aside the asinine notion that a virus or bacteria might change its physiology just to attack our sexual sins (or perhaps our DNA changed to be susceptible to it? Or perhaps even God made them as a microbial punishment, the douchebag) and just focus on fidelity as the supposed cure.

Here we have an amusing moral twist. Let me shred this with an example of an STD itself: Hepatitis A. Hep. A is a liver infection can be transmitted sexually. What is Ray Comfort's suggested method for avoiding getting Hep A? Why, abstinence and fidelity of course! He is completely overlooking the fact that you can get vaccinated for Hep A, and you can use the science of condoms to protect yourself against this disease.

Now an interesting tidbit about Hep A. It's transmitted through fecal matter (which, what that says about how it's transmitted through non-anal sex is a bit worrysome). That means, even if you are abstinent and faithful, you can still get it if perhaps you go out to eat at a nice restaurant and your chef is infected. Let's apply Comfort logic to this situation! If abstaining from sex is the proper way to sexual avoid infections, then abstaining from other people preparing your meals is the proper way to avoid dietary infections. You may only eat foods prepared by yourself or your spouse. Now how ridiculous does that sound?

Most logical people have seen the solution - chefs should wash their hands thoroughly after going to the restroom, and indeed that is the law. The answer is not abstinence, but protection. The goal is to take logical steps to avoid infections. I would love to see anyone claim that a restaurant infection was from the result of an individual's immoral behaviour of eating out. You can apply the same sorts of logic to some of the hygenic dietary Jewish laws. We don't have to follow their sanitary health laws pertaining to meats because we have the science of refrigerators and stricter regulations.

"Adultery begins in the mind. It is an unlawful desire. The thought precedes the deed, and God Himself says that if you desire to commit adultery you have as much as done the deed. He also warns that if you hate someone, you have as good as killed them."

So I guess you should be rounding up the haters and give them life in prison or the death sentence. For being all-knowing this god fellow has no sense of proportion. Also here again, we have a condemnation of lusting after someone else who is not your spouse, and the question arises, can you be sexually attracted to your spouse before you marry them?

I'd also like to point out that there is no problem whatsoever with lusting after someone else, even while you are married. Look at dirty pictures all you wish. Masturbate all you want. (Disclaimer: It can be unhealthy to masturbate to negative images such as children or rape.) What's actually dangerous, Mr. Comfort, is smushing healthy feeling down and associating them with guilt and shame. It becomes impossible to untangle those feelings of shame and guilt even when you end up lusting after your spouse.

A friend told me the story of how he witnessed the marriage of two fundamentalists, and after their ceremony the husband reached over and put his hand on her thigh. She cringed and backed away, having always associated such an action as sinful. She checked herself and allowed her now husband to touch her, but only after working to get rid of that wave of guilt and distrust. I can only imagine how unsatisfying their first night together must have been. Kazim rightfully pointed me to this onion article that describes what must frequently happen in those sorts of unions.

So feeling lust or a "sex drive" when seeing other attractive people = normal and healthy. Of course, if you genuinely don't feel a sex drive or lusty, then there's no problem there either. While that sometimes can be a symptom of depression or testosterone deficiency, some people do consider themselves asexual. The point is to not feel yourself pressured into any one specific sexuality.

"The Scriptures tell us that we share our thought-life with the One who gave us a brain. He sees what He created, and He destroyed an entire generation "because the imagination of their heart was continually evil." So pleading that you couldn't help lusting will not exonerate you from moral responsibility and its terrible eternal consequences."

Oh god oh god oh god the pain. He "gave us a brain" and then destroyed us "because of [the brain's] imagination. I can only imagine a cartoonish carrot-wielding god sidling up along side us, handing us a target, and as we stare dumbly at the red and white striped circle, whipping out a shotgun and blasting our beaks off.

And what in hell's satin bells is a thought-life? I suppose he means consciousness and wanted to give it a cutesy name. But consciousness is quite biological... speaking of which I must point out again that you lust in your brain, not your heart. And again, lusting is not unhealthy, so there's really nothing to get exonerated for. It's just something people made up to control reproduction. I will briefly go over the evolutionary psychology (as a biopsych major I've heard it a billion times and I always feel silly repeating it because I feel it's common knowledge.)

The unconscious, evolutionary goal of life is to pass on as many copies of your DNA as possible. Hunter-gatherer human ancestors need some sort of marriage to raise a child for the first 5 years. When women have babies in a marriage, they are confident that their baby has their own DNA. When men have babies in a marriage, it might be some other guy's DNA, and if he is married he would be spending his resources taking care of someone else's DNA.

While that might be charitable (thank you stepparents!) it doesn't really help his DNA and that sort of charity will not produce as many kids. What will produce more kids is to force women to be monogamous. And so a moral system around that evolved. I find it amusing that so many fundamentalists are protecting this very Darwinian relationship adaptation and at the same time dismissing evolution or claiming it leads to less moral lives.

Indeed, it is those who have rejected religion and/or think logically about how relationships work - with trust, love and respect - are those who fare better. We have evolved a large, thinking pre-frontal cortex so that we would be able to reason what was best. There are plenty of good resources on how to make a relationship work that have been tested against science.

While it can be hard to weed through all the therapists who write their own books, I recommend springing for a textbook. They are more expensive, but that is because they are the accumulation of years of objective, rigorous, scientific investigation. Guidebooks are usually cheaper because they are written by therapists who do not perform their own scientific studies, but instead draw their data from the small sample of patients who keep coming to see them (read: they rarely track down the failures and figure out what didn't work).

"However, repentance and faith in Jesus will.[...]"

...probably not get you laid.

14 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. I'm instinctively against criticising anyone who smacks Ray Dumbfuck's logic upside the head, however, it's The Great Retardo that claims lust is the heart - I don't get the impression Chris believes lust is heart-based.

    You also suggest Chris is defending lust on the basis of being an instinctive urge, whereas I read it as him making the point that since lust is not a consciously involked emotion, it's luduicrous to criminalise it; he agrees with you that there's nothing wrong with it. Chris is a skeptic, not a fundie.

    As for Ray quote mining, it's a rarity when he doesn't.

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  3. I know that Chris is the skeptic that Ray Comfort wants to think he's tearing apart, and that Christ himself doesn't think lust is in the heart, he's quoting Ray about that. And I bet that Chris has a longer, better argument wherever Ray cut him off from.

    And the reason I don't like the whole "I can't help it because it's an uncontrollable urge" is because, okay, what if lust was a controllable urge? What if we could switch lust on or off (or same-sex attraction, to continue with that analogous argument)? There would still be nothing wrong with it! (In fact, I suppose we could switch lust off with the correct doses of hormone suppressants, yikes.)

    Also, there are many people who can't help it if they do harmful things. For example, people with autism for example frequently engage in self-destructive behavior like banging their heads against the wall, and have to be conditioned not to do that. We don't let them bang away because they can't help it.

    So, while I think the whole "we can't help it" thing might convince some people, I believe that "uncontrollable urge", like anything else that's "natural" is a neutral term, and those behaviors can be healthy or unhealthy, and I don't like to use that argument as a defense.

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  4. Is it just me, or does anyone else feel that the quotes on his blog's banner are taken out of context?

    Especially the Hawking one, which I know he took out of context.

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  5. I agree that there's nothing wrong with lust whether it turned out it were conscious or not, but the fact remains that it *isn't*, therefore to criminalise that (rather than, say, any actions resulting from it, such as rape or sexual assault) is dumb.

    It's not as though he's suggesting that people might wish to appraise the consequences of acting on their lustful feelings, acting accordingly, and then society(or a deity, if one existed) could judge those actions good, bad or neutral.

    Thus, I think it *is* a reasonable rebuttal to the point.

    To take your example of homosexuality, I agree that it's irrelevant whether sexuality is chosen or innate, but the difference there is we don't actually know for certain whether it is one or t'other, and on that basis alone it would be a bad argument. If it turned out that it *were* innate, then that would be an argument to *add* to the fact that there's nothing the fuck wrong with it in the first place, and if it turned out it were chosen, it is of neutral value and doesn't negate the 'nothing the fuck wrong' argument.

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  6. All of Ray's quotes are out of context. The man is pathologically incapable of quoting in context. He even quotes the bible out of context...

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  7. It's basically the first thing to do whenever Ray quotes something 'find the original and see what it ACTUALLY says'. I agree with baldy, at this point I don't think he can help himself.

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  8. Secondly, but saying that lust is a "biological impulse" should never be used to defend anything. Taking a piss is also a biological impulse, but the majority of us have learned to contain that impulse to socially acceptable venues. Some biological impulses are also negative, such as the impulse to bash dumb fundies over the head in the hopes to dispel the demons of unreason, but alas, such a biological impulse must also be contained.
    I thought you were a determinist? Whether you bash fundies or not must be biologically predetermined by nonrational chemical reactions.
    First of all, I've yet to find a good explanation for what "sin" is.What is it?
    Offendiung God.
    Why does it permeate us? Why only humans?
    Only humans are moral agents, being made in the image of a moral God.
    Even if you say that sin is just something that harms us and damages our ability to achieve higher happiness, that's a claim that can be scientifically demonstrated, and I would like you to demonstrate it.
    Morality falls under the field of study knows as ethics which is completely different from physical science. That is like going up to an English teacher and asking him to "scientifically demonstrate" the skill of Shakespeare. Art and Literature, Ethics and science are different fields.

    I know I could point out that the biological chemicals that make up 'lust' and 'sex drive' are the same.A fellow who is married and horny for his wife releases just the same chemicals as a fellow who is unwed and horny (mainly testosterone in both males and females). It's unclear why Ray Comfort thinks that the same testosterone that makes your sex drive would not make lust.
    The chemical secreted when a husband has sex with his wife and when he has sex with a prostitute are the same. I suppose you would have no objection to that either?
    (I certainly hope you're not preventing pregnancy with birth control, or masturbating after sex, whichever way you interpret Oninism).
    Onan tried not to have sex with his brother's wife so that there would not be a child and he could keep the inheritance.That is what God objected to, his selfishness.
    If you have no sexual drive, why get married at all?
    Where's I'm from people get married because they love each other.
    Ah yes, STDs are the plague of broken rules. Let's set aside the asinine notion that a virus or bacteria might change its physiology just to attack our sexual sins (or perhaps our DNA changed to be susceptible to it? Or perhaps even God made them as a microbial punishment, the douchebag) and just focus on fidelity as the supposed cure.
    Yes..Ignore all the research that says people who practice faithful monogamy have a lower occurrence of STD's

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  9. EEA: First of all, I've yet to find a good explanation for what "sin" is.What is it?
    MFT: Offendiung God.

    So then the "harm" that Ray's referring to is not natural consequences, but deliberate punishment by the god who was offendied.

    The chemical secreted when a husband has sex with his wife and when he has sex with a prostitute are the same. I suppose you would have no objection to that either?

    Depends on who's harmed. In some places that's legal and regulated, so it is not "unlawful." Hence, according to Ray, that isn't even lust.

    Where's I'm from people get married because they love each other.

    You should be all for gay marriage, then.

    Yes..Ignore all the research that says people who practice faithful monogamy have a lower occurrence of STD's

    People who use condoms also have lower occurrence of STD's. Apparently God also rewards people for applying science.

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  10. Ah the chameleon known as Mr. Free Thinker strikes again. Using his ninja like abilities and mad haxxor skillz to infiltrate the sinful hated hethan communities and dismantle them from the inside using the god given abilities of cowardice, willful ignorance and misrepresentation.

    "I thought you were a determinist? Whether you bash fundies or not must be biologically predetermined by nonrational chemical reactions."

    Way to put words in people's mouth. How much does your monthly budget allow for needle and thread? Considering how many straw men you make you must be putting some spoolers kids through college.

    "The chemical secreted when a husband has sex with his wife and when he has sex with a prostitute are the same. I suppose you would have no objection to that either?"

    Personally I think prostitution should be legalized as doing so has shown great results...However I don't know if that's what the blogger says. Keep on sewing. The notion is that the feeling is the same...the action is however different. Again, since the feeling of anger we get when we THINK about killing someone (say as if we imagine their face while playing doom or at the firing range) is the same as killing them, clearly unless you are against video games and target shooting you must agree that murder is A-OK.

    "Where's I'm from people get married because they love each other"

    Unless they're gay... Define Love. Our word of love actually has all the definitions that the greeks used 5 words for. Erotic love is an essential part of marriage. If you don't find your spouse attractive you start to subconsciously or consciously look for a new mate. If you can't stand the sight of your spouse how can you have marital love? Lust for someone is part of love. In fact he listed that the lust and cuddle factor were two factors of what we call love. Way to intentionally misunderstand something so you can act self righteous.

    "Yes..Ignore all the research that says people who practice faithful monogamy have a lower occurrence of STD's"

    Yes ignore all the research that says on the whole....people DON'T. People cheat. And hey...often it's cause they don't lust after their spouse so they feel a need that they can't get in the marriage. Gosh...maybe if they were allowed to express lust healthily and even encourage it in each other for each other they would have a better shot at monogamy.

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  11. Ing, I think that MrF was going by past statements by EEAtheist, which indicate that she is a determinist. I think she was influenced in the regard by Denis on Non-Prophets?

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  12. Kazim, Ah fair. Then I retract my criticism while letting the rebuttal stand.

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  13. I'd also like to add then an apology and the additional rebuttal that sin is offending god.

    How can something all powerful be offended? How can something perfect be offended? Offense means your feelings or ego is injured. How can any mortal inflict any semblance of injury on a perfect being? Wouldn't an all powerful being be ABOVE offense? Wouldn't a perfect being be content with its own perfection and be immune to criticism or teasing?

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  14. Ing, you stopped short of hypothesizing a more perfect god than the Christian one: a god who managed to create flawless people that lacked the capacity for error or offense in the first place.

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