Built me up with Your Wishing Hell

I read recently that Atheists are one of the least-trusted segments of American society, falling far behind homosexuals, immigrants and convicted felons in a recent poll on trustworthiness. Apparently, most Americans can't bring themselves to trust someone who doesn't have some sort of religious faith, no matter how insignificant or tenuous that faith is.

This leads me to believe that most people are being willfully ignorant of the fact that a substantial number of deeply religious people are bat-shit insane.

I offer the example of a former co-worker and classmate with whom I went on several dates while in college. For some time before we went out she'd been on a spiritual quest of sorts. Like many people in their twenties she felt that her burgeoning adulthood lacked something and she was looking for whatever it is that fills the void. She read the Koran, the Torah and even had a go at the Tipitaka. She'd attended services a more than a dozen religious institutions. She was regularly emailing with several of the comparative religion professors on the nature of faith. This search was the dominating feature of her life at the time and it underpinned most of the conversation on our three or four dates.

Then, in an spiritual epiphany strangely equivalent to a high-speed left turn halfway across the Golden Gate bridge, she found her answer. Overnight, she returned to the fundamentalist Southern Baptism in which she was raised. And when I say returned, I mean it in the Douglas MacArthur sense. She began going to service on Sundays and Wednesdays plus twice weekly bible study and a political action group for six hours each Thursday. She took to carrying a bible around full time, traded up all her punk and metal CD's for contemporary Christian artists and she covered her car with religiously themed bumper stickers. She also started prostheletizing and praying aloud at work, constantly.

It goes without saying that a newly minted Jesus freak would opt to quit any romantic entanglements with the likes of me, being openly Pagan as I am. Mind you, she didn't just stop seeing me; she didn't just stop speaking to me. She informed all of our mutual acquaintances that I was, wait for it ... the antichrist.

Mind you, this was not a hyperbolic euphemism for 'he practices a religion that I find distasteful and consider to be offensive to my own faith.' No, she meant this literally. In the space of only a few weeks she had come to be believe that the literal Devil, the father of lies, the source of all that is black and unholy, who normally has horns and cloven feet transmuted himself into a simulacrum of my father. He then left hell, a place of real fire and brimstone that she believed to actually exist beneath the surface of the earth, and came to Earth to deceive and lay with my mother with the express intention of spawning me into the world.

In case I haven't made this clear enough, this woman believed me to be the literal son of Satan, harbinger of the apocalypse and enemy of god as foretold in the Revelation of John, spawned by the devil himself and she believed this to be objectively true in the same way that most believe the sky to be blue.

Need I point out that an Atheist would never come to believe such a thing? Who is more trustworthy, the person who chooses to live without a faith or a person who believes things that are demonstrably false? I mean, really?

Though, in a way, it's kind of flattering. I mean, antichrist, that's a big deal, right?

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On the Nature of Choice: An Ex-Waiter's Observations

Years ago, while working in a restaurant that was renowned for it's desserts, I learned first hand the vagaries of choice. For a while we had a chef that insisted we offer only one dessert an evening. Each night he prepared a special and unique sweet and only it was available.

His desserts were fabulous, mind you, second to none. I have literally seen women swoon, health nuts swear off diets and the sourest of first dates turn nearly pornographic at the taste of this man's pastries, mouses and soufflés. Problem was, we almost never sold any of them, perhaps two a night, three if we were busy.

That chef was replaced by another who preferred to run several desserts each evening, sometimes two or three, on big weekends as many as eight. Being the one to describe and serve the sweets to the guests, I quickly found that four was the optimal number. With four dessert options I could sell one to nearly half of all my guests. And, I should note that this second chef's confections, while still excellent, did not approach those of his predecessor. However, with each dessert offered above four, a predictable portion of guests would forgo that last course. By the time we got to seven or eight, we were back where we had been with the previous chef, selling only a handful of deserts each evening.

Granted, this is not a rigorous study, but I did see some consistent trends over hundreds of evenings that I'm certain most servers at that level can corroborate from their own experience. First, the more options there were, above four, the less likely a guest was to want one. Most often this seemed to be because they couldn't hold more than four descriptions in their head at once and if I had to go back and explain the first one a second time, they'd have forgotten the fifth by the time I was done. People don't like mental discomfort and they don't like feeling stupid so they'd just give up and go without.

Second, the more similar the options, the less likely the guests were to differentiate between them. If we offered an apple tart and a pear tart or a Napoleon beside a custard puff, the two combined would sell about as many as any one of the others. This also held true for items that were similar in appearance even if they were vastly different confections.

Third, discounting deserts that are already well known in English like Bûche de Noël and Napoleon, the more involved the French name, the less likely they were to sell. This could be mitigated if I could ground the idea of the desert in their mind, make it somehow familiar. For instance, "This is the Matignon, a flowerless chocolate cake named for the French Presidential Mansion.* Think Mansion, Matignon." Desserts with lengthy names that made no sense in English or that, were you fluent in French, were a humorous reference to the chef's girlfriend's vagina** never sold so well.

Finally, I could always sell more of a particular dessert if, immediately after describing it, pointed to it and said, "that's my favorite." By highlighting one option as superior, I essentially eliminated choice from the whole equation and I would sell twice as many of that particular desert than of any other, regardless of which one I chose to indicate.

The moral being that people, at least Americans that eat in French bistros, like choice, or rather they like the idea of choice. What they don't like is having to evaluate something for more than a few seconds. That feels like work. If they have to struggle to remember it, struggle to understand it, struggle to differentiate it from it's counterpart, they'll just as soon choose not to choose at all. Savvy salespeople know this and can manipulate the decision making process of their customers with great virtuosity and usually with the customer believing that they have made a rational, entirely self-determined choice from the word go. Put simply, our choices are rarely our own; remember that the next time you buy something.

* Actually Hôtel Matignon is the residence of the French Prime Minister but that doesn't bear explaining to most Americans.

** I'm not making that up. We had no less than a half dozen desserts with names that meant "the two petaled flower I only see at night" or somesuch.

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The Enemy of my Enemy?

I don't understand why the Republicans are so opposed to socialized medicine.

If we had a nationalized universal healthcare program they could, under the guise of preserving the health of the population and conserving tax dollars, regulate all sorts of activities that current law prevents them from touching.

They could outlaw premarital and gay sex, since those are obvious disease transmission vectors.

We all know that abortion causes breast cancer.

Those big festivals that celebrate counter-culture movements, civil disobedience or play anti-authoritarian music, way to high a probability that someone would get injured or perhaps use a dangerous recreational chemical, they'd have to go.

Pornography causes all kinds of mental illness, didn't you know. And, kinky sex? Oh, lord no, someone could get hurt.

If they could find a peer-reviewed study that indicated prayer bettered one's chances in an illness they could mandate that everyone go to church, an evangelical protestant church, that goes without saying.

Never mind, of course, that cheerleading and golf are, statistically, among the most dangerous pastimes in America. Those are just too damn wholesome. Smoking would remain legal, of course, because all of the tobacco states are redder than a submissive's buttocks. And, no one ever got sick from breathing petroleum exhaust or being exposed to petrochemicals.

Really, I don't see why the republicans are against it. It could really be a boon for them and that's before considering all the money they could give to religious hospitals.

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Grant me Wings that I Might Fly, my Restless Soul is Longing

Sorry to have been quiet for a bit. I'm on a six day a week show for the next few weeks and I recently had emergency oral surgery. To fill the gap, here's a piece from my old blog that I penned a few years back.

How is it that the bulk of unenlightened America has such an anemic and myopic concept of morality?

I've been having an ongoing discussion with half a dozen people about the nature of sexuality as a moral entity. In each case the discourse was prompted by a different set of circumstances: the recent Supreme Court ruling on sodomy, the Jakko trial, a lengthy and heated argument about how people of my religious leanings are going to burn eternal in a lake of sulphur and several goings on regarding who is and is not willing to have sex with me and my reciprocal feelings. I'm sick of it. I'm sick of the feeble, puritan, anti-human and polarized view of sexuality.

Most importantly, I am infuriated by the false dilemma of meaningless sex foisted upon the more progressive among us. The misconception seems to be that sex is the sole purview of monogamous, heterosexual marriage, and in the more liberal view, the domain of 'true love.' Anything outside of these situations is, by oppositional necessity, meaningless sex.

I don't buy it, not for a moment. To reduce the gauntlet of sexual possibilities to this false polarity is to casually disregard the depth and breadth of both human sentimentality and sexual variety. I will agree with the base assertion by saying that sex is a powerful and important thing. It is an act of bonding, of intimacy that is potent in its effects, immense in its scope and potentially dangerous in its consequences. Also, the best, meaning the most engaging and emotionally significant sex, is usually done in the context of an emotionally connected and monogamous relationship.

However, to infer that two people, the ‘consenting adults’ of sound byte fame, cannot come together physically for other reasons or in other contexts is emotionally sophomoric and, as per my religious disposition, potentially offensive. Two people (for that matter any number of people) can come together for the purposes of recreation or concentration, to create a bond, to understand one another, to share joy or to explore themselves with the help of another, and do so honestly and healthily without the specter of true love casting a shadow on what is an entirely natural way of engaging the world and each other.

It is precisely the range of sexual relationships that makes sex such a powerful thing and that makes it dangerous. It is this risk, the risk of emotional involvement, the risk of opening one’s self and even, yes, the risk of disease, that makes the variety of sexual experiences available to us valuable and so profoundly important.

The point is that any sexual relationship, no matter how transient SHOULD be meaningful even if its meaning is bound up in its very transience. I would go so far as to say that every such encounter has meaning whether the participants choose to acknowledge it or not but, honestly, I’m not prepared to speak on behalf of the rest of the human race.

Long rant short for those that skipped to the end. Get off your morality high horse. Sex isn’t meaningless, ever, even for those who say it is. It is profoundly important and it is he who would seek to impose his sexual standards on others that fails to understand exactly how important it is. Do what you want with who you want and don’t give anyone else any lip about it because it’s not your business or theirs. If you feel the need to indict someone else’s sexuality, then you’re probably too tense and in desperate need of a good long fuck.

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