The following is the text of a talk I gave at the 2009 Dragon*Con convention (Skeptrack), held in Atlanta over Labor Day. It is a minority view response to recent discussions about where the “skeptic movement” ought to go from here. It was intended exclusively for a skeptic audience. An audio version can be downloaded at http://www.truthdriventhinking.com/audioblog.com, or heard here at iTunes).

Greetings!! What an honor it is to represent flyover country today. I’ve titled my comments Feeding the Skeptic’s Soul: Do More of This, and Less of This. You’ve probably heard this common device for improving communication—“do more of this, and less of this”—and as I was grappling with recent discussions of the future of the skeptic movement, and the scope of our inquiry going forward, it seemed like a workable framework to explore a nagging little feeling I have as a skeptic.

First, a quick warning about something that has bothered me: I’ve come from Kalamazoo, Michigan, a humble skeptic who has chronicled and shared his journey to this skeptical worldview through a couple of books; a three-year old skeptical podcast called Truth-Driven Thinking; and most recently a skeptical novel exploring religious dogma in some depth. So, here I am talking to a group of people equally committed to science, reason, and truth-driven thinking over emotion-driven thinking—many of whom are far brighter than I, and many of whom are people who love data, numbers, logic, technology, charts, graphs, and research papers as much or more than I do—and I’m mostly going to talk to you about … feelings. And emotion. WTF, eh? But this nagging feeling I’ve had is intimately tied to this question of where skeptic movement ought to focus, so here goes my two cents worth on both topics.

A Personal Paradox

My nagging feeling related to the future of the skeptic movement—and in ways I hate to admit this, is one of being isolated. Okay, I’ll take it a step farther and call it loneliness. As uncomfortable as it is for me to say, and probably for you to hear, Spock we are not; we do have feelings and emotions. I’ve determined it IS logically consistent for me to recognize two seemingly in-conflict consequences of my skeptical worldview: a great sense of completeness, peace, order the universe, and satisfaction—and also this sense of isolation because of the questions I’ve asked honestly and thoughtfully of myself and the world.

Now before go further, I need to be clear that there are many religious skeptics, or at least deist skeptics. I get that, and agree that a great skeptic can be a believer in a personal deity. Some even believe in Heaven and Hell, and for them I like to quote Mark Twain, who said, “[A] Dying man couldn’t make up his mind which place to go to—both have their advantages, ‘heaven for climate, hell for company!’”

Seriously I want to recognize our believer skeptics fully, but for my comments to make sense you need to know that for me and for many skeptics, our open inquiry into testable and untestable claims about the history of religions has led us away from traditional faith, and increased our skepticism about claims of supernatural agency in our world. Because this is my experience, and that of many, it is relevant to my discussion of this apparent paradox between a more fulfilling narrative of how the world works (skepticism), and a social deficit of sorts.

This satisfaction I mentioned is worth explaining just a bit. In a nutshell, I feel better equipped to handle life’s inevitable losses, lotteries, pains and joys, and tragedies and triumphs under a skeptical/naturalistic worldview. Life is even more rare and precious than when I could abdicate caring for others because everything would be made right and be part of a plan for another world or life. I feel empathy and other emotions on a deeper and more meaningful level than I ever did when I believed in contra-causal free will—essentially that there could be effects and reactions that had no natural or earthly cause.

Literalized mythology worked for me in some regards: a driving force, a loving overseer—but not others. He killed little babies in tsunamis, or allowed thousands to die in landslides and earthquakes. He healed some people internally where we couldn’t see or understand how he had allegedly moved or changed something in the physical person—a cell or molecule or whatever—in a way that was uncaused by any natural chain of events; but he couldn’t grow back limbs on amputees, where we could see what had to happen. That, or he hates all the amputees, because he never heals them.

Free Will

Or maybe that would be too obvious? Remove “free will,” right? There’s a concept! That’s always the excuse given for the existence of Hilter and all the horrific HUMAN evil in the world—we must have “free will.” Of course free will still doesn’t explain perpetual human suffering like the mass slaughter of humans in the Indonesian tsunamis. Why would an all-loving, all-powerful, all-seeing god allow that?

I highly recommend a book on theodicy and the so-called “problem of evil” and suffering by eminent NT scholar Bart Ehrman. It’s called “God’s Problem.” Still even on the question of human evil, Ehrman asks, “Is there no free will in heaven?” Great question. It sounds like a wonderful place, but if there’s no free will—in the words of Tina Fey—“Do I really want to go to there?” (Now there’s a good skeptical question).

So for me, here on earth we really don’t need to leap to supernaturalism to fill the gaps, especially since so far all gaps in knowledge have been temporarily filled by the simple “God did it” explanation when we didn’t understand, but then filled by real, useful, natural explanations, by science and intellectual curiosity. And every time we gain more knowledge, it turns out that a natural explanation about the interaction of “stuff”—like biochemistry, genetics, atoms and molecules—best accounts for everything. Chance, predators, psychology … the sun and rotation of the earth create weather; we don’t need God to understand crop failures (weather/climate); why some planes to crash others do not (metal fatigue); what caused that tsunami (converging tectonic plates), or why Michigan football teams can’t seem to win (Satan).

Now: it’s important to note that as skeptics when we don’t know an answer, it’s okay to simply say “I don’t know,” and leave it at that. And for me, that is less stifling of creativity and more honest and satisfying than saying, “God (magic) did it. That’s the answer. We don’t need to investigate any further.” In fact, we can embrace and celebrate mysteries and stand in awe and wonder just as much as the next person. I’ve literally been moved to tears on a mountain top while skiing. (Then again I’m the sappy skeptic.)

Okay, enough. You get the picture: the myths of a personal god just don’t work for me, and they don’t work for many skeptics.

Loneliness

This leads me back to loneliness. Part of my loneliness comes from a simple observation from everyday life: many people where I live—want to fix me—on a daily basis. They don’t honor my right to my own beliefs or inquiry, and when they learn of them they always say the same things: “Have you read CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity?” Or they cite something from William Lane Craig or Josh McDowell. Some more “enlightened” evangelists cite Gregg Boyd, or perhaps even Francis Collins or some new-age woo from Wayne Dyer or Deepak Chopra. But the bottom line is where I come from, in Western-Michigan-Dutch Christian-Reformed-land, what seems like a majority of people want to fix me. Whether that is for their own ego, or because they truly care about me and my soul—I don’t know.

It’s worth noting that I’ve done my homework. I’ve read and studied Christian apologetics … so the “have you read Mere Christianity?” line is getting tired. It is also a subtle form of bias—a constant admonishment that somehow I’m ill-informed, or not okay (as the minority). Never mind that I’ve come to my always-provisional estimates of reality only after great study and effort, and availing myself to high-level scholarship from more than one side—far more, I could argue, than most of those who claim certainty; my novel contains over 100 real-world citations—but it is I who am not okay, or so I am reminded almost daily. Silly example, but I just went for an eye appointment and my Doctor asked if I was having any trouble reading the fine print of my Bible. I let it slide, by the way. Should have said, “No, but have you read Mere Christianity?” (For the record: dreadfully inane book!)

This kind of inadvertent or casual “witnessing” often happens at a cocktail party, in a business setting, or in a public venue when we’re engaged in conversations. While in no way am I uncomfortable with it, nor do I believe people should refrain from speaking in terms of their myths, I am constantly amazed by how many times in an average day people tell me God was involved with this, or they’re thanking God for that, or something was divinely “meant to be.”

Of course the ability to see the hits and ignore the misses baffles me. “Fifteen wonderful children were mutilated in that bus accident, but praise God he saved little Sarah. It’s a miracle!” Or better yet, “I just lost my speech, my eyesight, and two limbs, but praise God I know he has a plan for me and will bring me through. What a gift.” Whatever gets you through, I suppose. Where the hell was he when you got into this! We might want to make a call to the loss avoidance department rather than just rush in and fix claims quickly, eh?

Now I’m partly making fun, it is true, because that worldview SO doesn’t work for me. But that said I truly don’t often make fun—and hope and believe this is an audience that can follow my message without offense. My heart is genuine that if they find strength there, and don’t impose it on me or deny their child medical care, good for them; but what I’m telling you is that it is lonely and isolating for me where I live, in everyday life. Sometimes I DO need to laugh with you, my fellow fans of unbridled, intellectually honest inquiry, and blow off some steam.

Back to the awkward conversations in which I find myself pretty much daily. So say an acquaintance in the store tells me how they’ve been healed. I am then left with the decision of whether or not to share my views. Sometimes I do; sometimes I think my sense of authenticity and self-respect demand that I at least demonstrate I am not in agreement.  I also like the idea of avoiding the appearance of being complicit and in agreement—particularly if I think there is a shot at consciousness-raising, or a better understanding between us.

Most often, however, I do not entertain illusions that I can change peoples’ minds, nor do I wish to arrogantly assume that the myths that people hold, which are unsatisfying to me, should be equally as unsatisfying for them. I understand they may even be wired differently—in fact, I rile people up by saying I wonder if some brains are wired such that they are “better served” by a theistic worldview. I may be egocentric at times, but I find it unsettling territory to demand my worldview will fit everyone—even the most right brained among us—like a one-size-fits-all glove, or putting square pegs in a round hole.

So most often I say nothing as they tell me how their brain tumor was tweaked and manipulated physically through prayer—not biochemistry alone—some matter somewhere was moved in a way that was not naturally caused. Often there is absolutely no point to saying anything. So despite having written an entire novel on the dangers of dogmatic belief in anything (did I mention I hate when people talk about their books … like mine that is available through Amazon, our web site, or any major retailer? Unconscionable.) But alas, I let it slide.

Even if I wanted to be rude, which I don’t, I couldn’t get through a day if I didn’t let things go. I can’t debate everyone all day, everyday, nor do I want to do so.

It is worth noting that I am not just talking about religion, but plenty of divisive, tribal customs that mean very little to me add to this sense of isolation. Whether it is failing to adopt a political party, a company loyalty, a sports team loyalty—despite my earlier jokes, a favorite color, a theme song, or some other bias, prejudice, slogan, or in-group mantra, the upshot of all of it is a tendency to feel like I don’t belong ANYWHERE. To be honest, sometimes I’ve thought that if I were gay I’d be better off, because I could be alone together with someone else. As a skeptic, I do feel isolated. But I can’t be alone in feeling isolated, can I? It is my personal observation that I am not alone, but I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve heard other skeptics talk about this.

This is my first Dragon*Con, but I have attended several of The Amazing Meeting events sponsored by the James Randi Educational Foundation. At my first, Julia Sweeney opened with her poignant and moving one-woman play, “Letting Go of God.” What a masterpiece. I laughed awkwardly at parts; and being an admitted sap, I was tearing up at others. Hell, I still like Little House on thePrarie. (Hey, ever hear of the Little House drinking game? You drink every time you hear the phrase “Pa, come quick, he’s hurt bad”; little did I know how right the comedian who said that was.) In subsequent years, I watched Hal Bidlack give a marvelous and emotional speech about his unwillingness to leave behind a shred of hope for a non-falsifiable Deistic watchmaker-god. It garnered one of the largest and robust standing ovations I’ve seen at a skeptic gathering. I don’t agree, but I loved it. He expressed, honestly, his human needs and how his human experience interacted with his rational mind.

Conversely, I will note that in the years after that, where real-world applications of these big questions were slightly downplayed in favor of more traditional skeptic subjects, I was fascinated to notice that virtually all the table conversations were dominated by talk of religion. With no prompting on my part, lunches and breaks were filled with interpersonal connections and discussions about how critical thinking impacted interfaith homes, and marriages and families.

It can be a tough thing to deconvert and no longer share the same worldview as the people you hold dear.

Why We Gather

It was obvious to me, these were the WIFM issues attendees at skeptic conferences were discussing. These were the things that were impacting their LIVES. The science and topics were great, but many of these non-scientists were working to apply these reason-driven concepts to their 9:00 to 5:00 worlds, and be nurtured by the experience of being together. They had needs that were perhaps going unmet by the conference content proper. Honestly, for some I suggest those needs were as big a part of their attendance, as the content.

In business I have often asked owners and staff the purpose of collecting charts, graphs or for that matter measuring anything. Why do we measure systems? The answer is simple. We look back, to predict forward. We want to estimate the results of future changes. If we were going to leave things alone forever, measuring them would be relatively useless. I see a parallel to the skeptic movement, and the feelings of isolation from the general population that I sometimes feel.

I don’t simply want to know the facts of the past: whether there are or are not UFOs and little green men. I don’t simply want to know the historical truth about that noise in the basement—whether it was the house settling or my dead father rattling chains. I want to know because answers to these questions are directly relevant to my future! I want to predict and extrapolate the data to the bigger questions, because those are where we ultimately gravitate in life. It’s about me, for me. And for you, it is about you and your life! Am I alone in that?

Big Foot’s existence is interesting, but the big public policy questions of a deity angry over stem cell research, or guiding economies, or appointing leaders by some Karmic force like Doug Coe and the powerful “Family” in Washington believe, or if Goerge Bush really told French President Jacques Chirac in early 2003 that Iraq must be invaded to thwart Gog and Magog, the Bible’s satanic agents of the Apocalypse; or if burning condoms in AIDS-ravaged African makes sense because of some twisted, Gnostic or Augustinian distain for all that is flesh—seem to me quite significant. As does whether or not my wife will be bound to me for the afterlife as well as this one—as the Mormon’s believe.

Yes, UFO investigations teach me about the world and about epistemology, as does Randi’s investigation of Uri Gellar—in profound ways!!!! I couldn’t be more grateful and respectful … Randi is a hero of mine. But combine them with investigations by the likes of Dr. Robert Price, or Bart Ehrman, or Robert Funk, or Sister Karen Armstrong, or Bishop Spong, and I might also calculate the odds of there being a heaven or hell!!! And knowing that changes everything!!!! about how I’ll live my life, and the narratives through which I’ll make sense of it!!! And make the world a better place!!!

All that said, I guess I’m saying that all roads lead to Rome. All of our questions are going somewhere, and building on one another, and that “somewhere” is WHAT THE ANSWERS MEAN TO ME and MY FUTURE, and HUMAN EXISTENCE as a whole. And I’ll bet your inquiry, and all the questions you ask about the world and the universe, you ask because the answers mean something to your existence. So with all due respect, I am saying that I DO want us to play with the big questions that matter to society: philosophy, economics, social psychology, theory of government, religious claims, definitions of morality, and fuzzy issues and other soft sciences that lie beyond hard science. The tools of science and reason are still the best for inquiry, are they not?

But my larger point: from Julia Sweeney, to Hal Bidlack, to my sense of detachment and isolation, what speaks to us as a movement is more than just the facts and the scientific papers. We could get the facts from science journals alone, and there would be no need to gather and drink beer.

But we do gather at skeptic conferences. We don’t hold hands and sway, or listen to inspirational music. But MAYBE WE SHOULD!! Human souls need to be fed. Granted, to varying degrees, but they do. Is there a way we could do more of that? Do more of the fun things that Dragon*Con and Amazing Meetings afford us.

Of course we humans tend to divide ourselves. Much of my work, and my novel in particular (Amazon or see www.asecretoftheuniverse.com), has been centered on how we hurt one another through our divisive tribalism and dogmatic differences.

So here is the pickle: I don’t want to be a tribal skeptic. I don’t want to go to skeptic church and never see the outside world. It isn’t healthy for me, and it isn’t healthy for the world. But that said, I do need to retreat there sometimes. I need to enjoy the fellowship of people who think the way I do. Maybe I need to even make a joke about Mormons or Christians. That doesn’t mean I’m not respectful; it means I need some affirmation that it’s okay to frickin’ think!!! And ask questions!!! I need to know that all the people who tell me I’m incomplete and wrong, on a daily basis, aren’t the only people in the world—even if it feels that way where I live.

So I think we should gather more, not for the purpose of continuing to brainwashing ourselves—of course we skeptics aren’t conformists anyway: a stink eye from Shermer doesn’t turn us into zombies too readily; but it can happen. It happens the same way all groups become egocentric and inwardly focused, and intolerant of the human rights of others to hold views different than our own.

Suggestions

So what can we skeptics do more of to help me feel less isolated? What can we do less of?

Humbly I suggest, do more of this:

  • Feed my soul (I don’t really believe in a soul, but there is the value in symbols). With humor, with fun gatherings, soul-stirring musical performances, with holding hands and swaying if you’re into that, with support, with friendship, with … Tiamat willing … hugs. (I better get one f-in hug out this effort whether you liked it or not).
  • Gather
  • Be kind and inclusive like churches can be. Step up the kindness a notch or two—for everyone, regardless of their belief. Be inviting. We can joke about the Christians in private, as a catharsis, but if we actually mean it, or worse yet say it maliciously in public, that potentially displays an unhealthy chip on our shoulder, and does not favor breaking down the walls of persecution and tribalism.
  • Somehow, give me the space and forum to move beyond UFOs.
  • Give me a community. Call me crazy, but weekly gatherings for fellowship could be done in a non-religious setting, couldn’t they? Some are doing it. Reed Essau; CFI; Drinking skeptically, Russ Schussler and the Atlanta skeptics. Do more of it. (I need to do more of it.) After all, institutions where people are tolerant of one another, make meals after someone dies, celebrate life’s milestones, and revere the mysteries of the universe together isn’t a bad idea, in and of itself, is it?
  • Do this, read and comment on my BLOG. Seriously, it’s called Perspectives: Food for the Skeptic’s Soul—and that’s how I learn and grow—through kind/honest dialogue. And that blog is where I throw around real-world issues about the softer side of skepticism and what it means to our lives. I’ve written about everything from monogamy, to how the memories of our loved ones really do transcend death (without appeal to supernaturalism). I grow through exchanges and dialogue—so come join me there.

Perhaps I’m calling, for lack of a better term, for more skeptic churches. In fact in one post I’ve advocated more of you join me as ordained reverends to perform secular support functions and help people celebrate and mourn life’s big milestones. All of this exists, but frankly, not in so much in my neighborhood. We need to do more of this.

Needs for affirmation

Lastly, fellow skeptics, I’d suggest we do more of this: understand that we really are humans and we all have needs, whether we admit it or not. Even those of us with the pockets most diligently protected from ink, even some of us who can spend hours hacking code, or discussing the nuanced arguments of Nietzsche—we still have needs.

Much of my fascination has centered on the dark side of our needs for affirmation, and how we all have a malignant tendency to seek information that affirms what we already think we know, rather than a desire to find out we are wrong.

This is true; but the fact that we have this strong desire to be told we are smart, or right, or beautiful, or worthwhile, should tell us something else. It is human!!!! It’s okay to be human. Frankly, it’s all we’ve got! Push come to shove, in the end, it’s our only option!

These needs should also tell us that regardless of where we are on the spectrum of emotional neediness—and I suspect we are somewhere on the less needy side of the general population distribution—skeptics, being human, still need their souls fed. I still need to once in a while lick my wounds and relax around people who think the way I do, who tell me that I’m brilliant—even when I’m not. And this, this is the piece that we often overlook in our rationality. The acceptance. The loving, if you’ll forgive me, the warmth, that is taught in other worldviews. We need that here, and we need it in action.

SUMMARY

For the record, I completely respect the views of Daniel Loxton and others from last year’s panel: the skeptic community probably does need to mind its image and avoid being mired in an endless loop of metaphysical blather that can very likely distract it from its mission of education and debunking more pressing quackery.

But from my humble perspective as someone who doesn’t have university thinkers to hang out with; from the perspective of everyday laborers who don’t have too much time or too much patience to socialize in forums or on the web; from my perspective as a person who lives in a dominantly religious culture; from my perspective as a social human who does want to belong and be at least occasionally loved and respected; from my perspective as someone who is regularly told, implicitly or explicitly, that my journey through life isn’t quite right, that if I just read CS Lewis one more time I would GET it—I need not only factual information from the skeptic community, I need to sooth my loneliness through a sense of community. I need the freedom to explore big questions together. I need insights and reminders about how to live a better, more fulfilling life without appealing to woo-woo magic or the supernatural; I need to have fun, laugh together, support one another, or Isis-forbid help one another through tough times—perhaps mourn a death with someone who gets me, or cook food for someone when they are sick.

But to do that will require not being afraid to move into that realm we skeptics seem to fear, perhaps more so than most people: intimacy, awe, wonder, emotion, humor, Horus-damn-it, maybe even holding hands and swaying (Nahhh—okay, not that).

The skeptic community can, and probably should in many ways stick to its knitting, ghost-busting, and quack hunting. But my simple request today—with hats off to Julie Sweeney, Randy Olsen, and Hal Bidlack for leading the way—is let’s not forget to feed the skeptic’s soul, as well as his intellect; and let’s continue to give ourselves a sense of community, and the freedom and the forum to extend intellectually honest inquiry to the big questions about our world—because they matter.

I will close with the words of Albert Einstein, who said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

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(Stephen L. Gibson is the author of Truth-Driven Thinking, and A Secret of the Universe, a critically acclaimed, citation-rich novel about the intersections of science, reason, and faith. Still an emotion-driven thinker in recovery, Steve shares his journey in search of ever-elusive truth with thousands via his Truth-Driven Thinking podcast, and his Perspectives blog; © 2009, Truth-Driven Strategies LLC.)

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Among recent emails from readers and listeners have been some on a topic near and dear to my heart: how can we engage one another in dialogue, move toward better understanding of one another and how the world really works, and still not be rude, off-putting, arrogant, unkind, or violent? Is it even a realistic goal, when dealing with sensitive topics like religion or politics? Obviously these are complex, million-dollar questions. Those who have read A Secret of the Universe know that these challenges are central to the moral of my little story. Is it possible to elevate our “humanness” to the point where we can honor disagreements, love one another, and still move toward caring, learning, and understanding, all without compromising intellectual honesty and our search for “truth”?

If we could answer these questions, we could probably end world hunger, stop the wars that rage around the globe, maintain perfect marriages, and find proverbial heaven on earth. Certainly I tried to illustrate a conceptual solution centering on the human capacity for “love,” which happens to be a central tenet of many of the world’s myths—from which we can learn. But alas, there are disagreements between and among people who share both similar and differing views on gods, the existence of gods, politics, worldviews, definitions of reason, and how science can or cannot address important questions.

One Such Debate

Jerry Coyne (author of Why Evolution is True) was recently criticized for his intellectually honest critique of Chris Mooney (author of The Republican War on Science) and Barbara Forrest(philosopher of science and witness at the Dover trial). In his own blog at http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/06/02/chris-mooney-and-barbara-forrest-love-the-faithful-more-than-me/, Coyne said they “take me to task for not being sufficiently nice to the faithful, and assert that my criticism of science/faith accommodationismwill alienate those liberal Christians who support evolution.” Give it a read and you’ll see the challenges more clearly, but it appears Coyne is intellectually honest, very polite, not mean-spirited, and never engages in ad-hominem attacks or any such unkind behavior. Still, he is quite direct; and with regard to such issues, it shouldn’t surprise us that somebody gets angry.

So Coyne hit on what I see as a fundamental issue in the skeptical movement toward a science/reason based way of understanding and solving the world’s problems (assuming there is one): namely, the methods, means, and modes of discourse and dialogue. There seems little agreement on how to engage, even within this “skeptical” worldview Coyne and I appear to advance.

I’m all about tolerance. As many of you know I have spoken extensively on interbelief/interfaith tolerance, and my novel is about loving friends and family trying to figure out a way to continue to love and learn and share together, amidst hugely conflicting discoveries about what is historically “true” with regard to religious and political “reality.” While I know little these days, I assure you that most people are not even vaguely familiar with the serious disagreements between the brightest and best scholars, on central issues ranging from major historical problems with orthodox Christianity, to very little consensus between major schools of economics. You really can find a reputable, esteemed economist to argue just about any course of action in these tough times. But once we humans “own” a dogma with our egos, and invest ourselves in that position, we tend to hold it very firmly.

Especially with regard to the hot issues surrounding religious belief—those issues into which the supernatural realm is called in to testify—there is little consensus on HOW we should even begin to go about our dialogue. Where do we start?

So back to Coyne’s blog, wherein he feels he has been polite, but he refuses to capitulate and back-off what he sees as an empirically backed, superior argument, just for the sake of being “tolerant.” In other words, should we even consider supporting an untruth—which is contrary to how the world advances—merely in the interest of being nice?

A False Choice

Unfortunately, debates like this often wind up in a false dichotomy: either intellectual honesty and our commitment to “truth” and reason has to be compromised; or alternatively, we must be forceful, persistent, or even rude and in danger of “bad etiquette” in order to make a point.

Through my extensive experiences with deconversionsand conflicting worldviews—my own as well as the countless stories I receive from readers/listeners to my podcast programs—I reject this false dichotomy. It IS possible to be kind, tolerant, and understanding, while also advancing understanding and continuing to explore the merits of the various arguments. But how? It is difficult, isn’t it?

Yes, but the crux of the matter, as I see it, centers on that elusive line between the social world and the intellectual realm where real learning takes place. Let me explain.

There is a time and a place, according to social norms, for just about everything. For example, theological seminaries are wonderful places where deep and thorough debates take place. Esteemed New Testament scholar Dr. Bart D. Ehrman often laments that the seminaries teach the great debates, and the substantial problems brought to bear by two hundred years of modern, higher critical methods of scholarly inquiry; but, he argues those very legitimate differences are not often honored once the hallowed halls are departed, and pews are filled with local congregants. The point is that it is not “bad form” to be extremely critical in seminary. Many seminarians at these great institutions are not even theists. All is well and the wonderful scholars of varying “beliefs” all seem to get along swimmingly. Seminary is an appropriate place and time for debate.

But there are also social institutions, and tribes, and gangs, and traditions in the real world. If as an non-theistic agnostic, I run into a church and begin telling people about the incompatible, distinct Christologies and theologies offered by the unknown authors of the four canonical gospels (let alone the non-canonical gospels)—or irreconcilably conflicting birth narratives in the gospels, the genealogy problems, or why there were two Jesuses (Barabbas) in the best, earliest copies of the text we later came to attribute to “Matthew”—that would be rude. Worse still would be walking in and telling people their god is a delusion (though Richard Dawkins makes that point in an intellectually honest way in his bestselling book by that title—which legitimately falls into that learning realm, where the listener/reader is open to, interested in, and “okay with” the information exchange).

Why It Matters

But see my point, please. The point isn’t who is right and who is wrong. The point is that we play on two separate fields, one is the factual exchange, the other is the social, interpersonal, and emotional; and the latter essentially regulates and controls the chances at the former.

So why not just liveand let live, Steve? Well, that’s a good place to start, and I do promote that. Given the alternatives, it’s a great choice. Still, those who push harder and risk being accused of being rude have a legitimate point about wanting to better the world, and not be ruled by homophobes or Jerry Fawells, or be cared for by incompetent doctors who are quacks. Advances don’t happen through abandoning learning, curiosity, and reason. Progress happens through information exchange and finding out what is “real” and what is not.

But take that a step further. Intellectually, all participants in a free society are able to hold beliefs; but since those beliefs affect others (voting, juries, legislation, etc.), they cannot be asserted while simultaneously being held above critical scrutiny. The costs of taking action based upon gang, tribe, dogma, or untrue emotion-driven assumptions can simply be too great. From unenlightened groupthink to mob psychology, the dangers of unquestioning loyalty are now well known to humanity. So how do we find the common ground and avoid our false choice, our false dichotomy of only two options: complicit caving-in and passivity, or pushing the envelope to force the argument?

It would seem we have not yet asked the most important question. “What is the goal?” What is the purpose of this dialogue and discussion we wish to hold? What is the purpose of our conversations and the very act of engagement? Of our persistence in standing firm for reason and refuting the argument that some things—like religions—are private and can never be questioned or refuted?

Worthy Goals

It would seem to me that a worthy goal must be at least two-fold. As a first step, we must raise consciousness and awareness about the importance of mutual understanding. If we don’t have the desire, if we don’t want to learn and gain mutual understanding, the rest of the effort is probably futile! The efforts at mutual understanding and progress will fail, or move far too slowly as the decades click by. People shut their ears and minds, but through awareness and admission that we care enough about reaching understanding, even the greatest of cognitive illusions and mind traps can be ameliorated as we learn about them. In order to hear, there must be a genuine desire to listen and understand one another.

To be intentionally redundant, the second step doesn’t really matter until the first step is accomplished. The social elements of interpersonal communication are vitally important, no matter how much we rationalists want to wish them away and say they aren’t—or shouldn’t be—part of the equation. After recognizing this, we can move to the second step, the actual exchange of data and ideas to gain the mutually desired understanding.

Still, it is vital to note that these are not distinct steps, and we constantly bounce back and forth between the social/political and the information exchange, as we build trusting relationships. It can’t all happen at once, any more than building a marriage can come from a single week of factual, business negotiations about how trust will guide the relationships. You can’t just sit down and agree to these things on a purely reasoned ground. We must bounce back and forth between conversations about the business of the relationship, and the social realm trust-building and mutual caring.

Then, and only then, if both the desire to mutually understand one another and then the information exchange take flight, might we accomplish an elusive third goal: finding truth, or even seeing someone change his or her mind after gaining new insights?

Some argue somewhat reasonably that progress requires both schools of engagement—the aggressiveand the social/political/trust-building; then, somehow the pace of change gravitates to the normative, goldilocks middle zone—one that is “just right.” While that is an understandable, perhaps warm thought, I’m not yet sold. Again, if minds close at moment we transgress the line between the social and learning modes, the game is over and there is no progress. In other words, I argue that being a jerk impedes the overall pace toward mutual understanding and progress, and may even reverse it.

Avoiding Transgressions

So in summary, we must work to avoid the false dichotomy mistake. We can, and must, balance the social, political, diplomatic, and interpersonal elements of communication, with the factual content being transmitted in the learning/insight stages. Stephen Jay Gould’s understanding of this is shown in his work on mitigating language. We all know that changing the mind of an emotionally invested believer in anything, can be nearly impossible.

The best way to avoid transgressions is to at least periodically evaluate if all parties are in agreement about the mode in which exchanges are taking place, social or learning. In other words, maybe the secret is in being mindful, thoughtful, and routinely making sure you have not switched inadvertently from a factual argument to an emotional one. And when that happens, try to clarify that it has happened, and that we will all be going back to social trust-building until we are again in agreement that understanding, through intellectually honest exchanges, is a mutually beneficial and shared goal. In short, we must ask, “Is this the right place, at the right time?”, and do so more frequently than our left-brain wiring would suggest is necessary.

If we don’t start with opening hearts and minds—which requires dancing the social dance as relationships bounce between the appropriate times and places and the safer, social realms—the understanding and learning will never come.

One final example: Among scores of such debates about the existence of god, I had the opportunity to hear Christopher Hitchens—the prolific columnist, pundit, intellectual wrangler, and author of God is not Great—debate his conservative and equally talented U.K. columnist-brother Peter Hitchens. Before I make my point, however, please understand that I have heard Christopher Hitchens speak many times before, and I very much enjoy his brilliant repartee, his irreverence, and his intellect. I am, in the privacy of my home, a closet fan I dare say.

That said, it was fascinating to watch the faces of my sweet family members, and the Grand Rapids, Michigan audience, as pitbull Christopher berated his brother Peter. You can listen to the debate online, but I watched as what I think was a relatively sympathetic, agnostic crowd at the Fountain Street Church, recoiled rather noticeably at the sometimes-visceral, patronizing, and aggressive style of Christopher Hitchens.

Ironically, that’s probably why I love Chris at times, much as I love the lead character on Fox TV’s House, who says the things we all sometimes wish we could say. But you see, in the real world, just abandoning diplomacy and spewing forth our most unmitigated tirades is not helpful toward either of our primary goals. We can’t speak to people as the character House does if we want to build trust and move toward our first common goal—to desire and see the benefit ofimproved understanding, let alone move toward factual exchanges with the utopian, ultimate possibility of mutual enlightenment and/or changing minds.

Conclusion

For these and other reasons, the debate will rage in—and among—all the tribes and gangs engaged in all the culture war issues. Should we be more aggressive, or should we capitulate and be “tolerant.” It is a false choice. Unfortunately, until we see the need to first recognize our shared connectedness and humanity, the promises of peace, understanding, and progress will be slowed.

The fact that I’ve been on different sides of many issues at different phases of my life should tell me that the other side isn’t a bunch of useless idiots. If they are, I am a useless idiot, because I was once there too.

As much as we’d like to, we cannot abandon the interpersonal, social, political, and emotional elements of debate. But that said, we can and must ignore the false dichotomy of only two approaches to debate.

(By Stephen L. Gibson, © 2009, Truth-Driven Strategies LLC; www.truthdriventhinking.com and https://truthdriven.wordpress.com)

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So here is a provocative question to ask next time you’re out with a group of friends at a cocktail party: “How’s the whole ‘lifetime monogamy thing’ working out for you?” (If nothing else, I’m a fun cocktail party guest.) Of course most people react immediately and decisively, as if there were no other option. “What? Of course it works. It works wonderfully. What lunatic would envision otherwise.” It’s not a lie, really; but are they being totally truth-driven?

Alas in my quest to question all things, and seek truth primarily through reason, science, and evidence, I find the answer isn’t as crystal clear as we’d like to believe. How many at your imaginary cocktail party have had an exlusive monogamous relationship throughout their adult lives? Ever cheated?  (Numbers say most do.) Ever divorced? (You know the numbers on this.) Those two statistics alone bolster the rational case that modern Americans are serially monogamous (one partner at a time, then change), but not truly monogamous.

(Lest you attack my bias, for the record I’ve made it into this, my 42nd year, with only two “fully intimate relationships,” and both in the confines of marriage; this second one is going on 19 years! But would I do it differently if I had it to do again? I’ll tell you at the bottom of the post.)

So to the point, I was going to write a blog entry dealing with some of these controversial questions, but then I realized I’d already written extensively on the topic. The following, seemingly dispassionate conversation between Ian and Samantha—from A Secret of the Universe—may appear a touch strange out of its historical context, but is nonetheless a “prelude” to a related epiphany for both of them. So from this story about God, sexual ethics, love, and death:

 A Conversation About Monogamy

Excerpt From Chapter 25 of A Secret of the Universe, Prelude to a Kiss“: A conversation between Ian and Samantha (Copyright 2007, Truth-Driven Strategies LLC)

Ian thought. “You know, I just don’t know. But the older I get, and the more I see, nothing would surprise me.”

“I just hope you’d tell me if you ever felt the need to go elsewhere. I can’t think of anything worse than being made a fool, a patsy. It’s not about the sex, its about the disrespect and the deceit . . . . I’d kill you.”

“I tell you, it’s why I think the whole Christian, puritanical view of the world might even be harmful. Hell, we tell kids sex is bad; we say we don’t, but we do. At the same time, unlike Europe, we’re both hypersexualized and prudish! I had friends whose parents actually told them sex was evil.

“The only thing my mom ever said . . . she walked in my room and said, ‘If you get pregnant I’ll kill you.’”

“Well my parents were relatively liberal and I would still lie in bed praying for strength not to sin and touch myself anymore. But then kids grow up and get married, and we pretend that each and every emotional and human need can be exclusively met within that relationship—the one created to preserve property inheritance for male successors,” Ian argued with a grin. “Between the hang-ups and the pressures, is it any wonder that so many spouses feel so inadequate, unfulfilled, or dissatisfied?”

“So would you marry me again today if you had it to do all over?” Samantha smiled knowingly; she just wanted to hear it.

“Of course. You know I would. And don’t get me wrong, I think that a lifetime commitment is so hugely important. The pledge to recognize that we are going to be here and grow in our love for each other, for the kids and for the grandkids, is huge. It’d be hard to overstate how important that is . . . . And it’s important that we work together in our community as well.”

“Yeah, well, if you ever leave me I’ll kick your ass,” Samantha joked. Confident and self-assured, she had joked before that they would have the easiest divorce any couple had ever seen, should they ever part ways. Of course it was an oversimplification, but Ian truly took her joke as a statement that she loved him so much that she really would ‘set him free’ if that was ever what he wanted. Ironically, he was touched by the statement, and it was just one of a million reasons he couldn’t envision living without her.

Ian laughed at her warning. “It’s just that to say in this day and age, when life expectancy will clearly reach close to ninety years or more—at least for our kids—at age twenty or thirty you’re supposed to select one person, love him or her so dearly and perfectly that you’ll be monogamous, totally fulfilled by only that person, in every want and need, for the next eighty years, just seems like a tall order to me.”

“It is a hell of a big promise,” Samantha agreed. “It almost goes back to the point you made when Bill and Megan were getting married. Is it humanly possible to pledge such a thing for certain? Can you really consent to an agreement to love someone for eighty years?”

Samantha paused, then answered her own question: “Clearly not, since more than half of marriages don’t last.”

Ian sat in thought. He said, “Okay, I’ll get back on my soap box just for a moment, but I mean . . . God seemed to fully condone concubines, back when people lived to thirty. How does monogamy for eighty years make sense? Actually, to your point, it doesn’t make sense in practice. I recently heard a woman on NPR say that most Americans are not monogamous; they engage in serial monogamy, which is simply one relationship at a time. Those don’t last either. So how is serial monogamy good for kids?”

“You know, for the record I do believe that you’ve lost it. You are officially a wacko liberal, one hundred and eighty degrees not the guy I married.”

“Thanks a lot,” Ian laughed.

“But that said, it does seem like a lot of pressure on the relationship to say that all your intimacy needs, forever, must come from this person—especially if what you say is true, that historically the real world hasn’t worked that way,” Samantha proffered.

“Not at all. Not only did the Biblical world work differently, but antisexuality paranoia didn’t really creep in to Christianity until Augustine, during the fourth and fifth centuries. And even then it came from the gentile mystery religions and philosophies, not from anything Christ or his apostles said.”

Ian became slightly more animated. “Priests married and had concubines up until 1022, when Pope Benedict VIII finally changed it and sentenced any children of priests to serfdom. But even then it was more about protecting the wealth of the Church from leaking out through inheritance. There was no theological basis.”

“I know. I know already, geek-boy. But you’re off topic as usual. And I was actually agreeing with you about the challenge of eighty-year marriage.”

Ian shot her a goofy glance. “Fine. But the central question becomes this: is love a zero-sum game? Is it a finite thing that is scarce and in limited supply?”

“Ahh. By that you mean just because you love one person, does that mean that the person you love uses up your available supply of love?”

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I think people are saying with regard to sexual relationships. Love is like gas in a tank, where once expended there is no more.” Ian caught Samantha’s quizzical look. “If I give my gas to someone else, that means I don’t have as much to give to you. They say that sex is reserved for only one person for your entire life, and that indeed it is cheapened if it is shared with anyone else, before or after. The funny thing about that argument is that it presupposes that sex must be the thing of greatest importance in all human relationships, and I think that’s wrong.”

Sammy still looked perplexed. “I’m not following you.”

“Those who say love and sex are a zero-sum game, are guilty of overprioritizing sex; they say we should save our sexual relations for only one person in a lifetime. And I think that’s a hypocritical argument. We’ve almost made sex a false God.”

“Still don’t follow,” Sammy said.

“Well for starters, let me ask you this. I love my brother Matt. Does that harm your relationship with me? Is that destructive to our relationship? Does it drain my gas tank and make less love available for you?”

“No it doesn’t. I suppose that it would if the relationship was dysfunctional, or if it was greatly troubled. Then it might hurt our relationship.”

“Good point. But let’s assume it’s truly a healthy, ‘Christian’ relationship. Now for a second let’s take my relationship with Bill as another example. Bill and I have a loving relationship, but obviously in a decidedly non-sexual way—”

“Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” Samantha quipped.

“Okay. So assuming we are using a Christian-style definition for love that defines it as authentic, pure, selfless and true, does it harm you if I have a non-sexual, loving relationship with Bill?”

“Of course not. Just like you said about getting needs fulfilled only within the relationship, I think most shrinks would say that you need to have interpersonal relationships outside of the marriage to keep it from crumbling under its own pressure.”

“Okay, but let’s take it a step further. Is it possible that I could have a loving relationship that is non-sexual, with another woman in life? Say that my mother was still alive. Would loving my mother hurt our relationship?”

“Of course not,” Samantha answered, playing along with the little game, “but get to your point.”

“What I’m saying is that the entire message about love being a finite quantity, zero-sum game, is said to apply only in non-intimate relationships. If sex is involved, then people must fulfill themselves emotionally, spiritually, and physically, only within the confines of a marital relationship, for their entire life. That argument centers entirely on sex. Sex is the determining factor of whether a relationship is destructive of others—limited in its available supply like a gas tank. I think that the zero-sum approach overstates the importance of sex in relationships, and devalues the importance of love. Sex becomes like a god or something. It’s almost like a false idol.”

“Let me see if I can hang with you on this before my brain retires for the night,” Sammy said. “Because of the insurmountable, all-important, and unharnessable power of sex, a sexual relationship, then, is somehow totally different. Once we dabble with this powerful sex thing, relationships are a zero-sum game. Every time I have sex with you, I’m draining the amount of love I have for my other lovers, or better yet for my future husband who doesn’t crash my quiet time with philosophical rantings.”

Sammy’s joke made Ian laugh. She further summarized, “So the argument is that if I physically and sexually interact with you, I have less love to give someone else. Other relationships are not zero-sum games, like you and your mother, but sexual ones are mutually destructive of one another.”

“That’s exactly what I hear them saying,” Ian confirmed.

Sam thought for a moment then countered, “I could certainly see where you could argue the opposite, that all genuinely loving relationships are the same as those that are non-sexual! They are not zero-sum games. Love is not limited, but is more like sowing and reaping. The more love we spread in life—and I do NOT mean that sexually—the more everybody wins.”

“Wow, did I just hear you say that?” Ian laughed, prodding her playfully. “Now you’re sounding like a radical lib.”

“But Ian, nobody questions that premise. That’s what every religion preaches. ‘Do unto others,’ the golden rule, ‘love thy neighbor,’ and you will reap benefits many times greater.”

“Right. Did you know that during the Victorian age in New York, doctors had vibrators and considered it a ‘non-sexual’ medical procedure to provide clitoral massages to their patients?”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Samantha laughed.

“Absolutely not; it’s true. They thought that the relaxation of orgasm was quite helpful, and it turns out that hordes of women would very regularly see their doctor for that ‘therapy.’”

“Unbelievable.”

“But my point is that somehow if two female friends crossed that line today, and one provided the other with intimate contact or a ‘massage’ like the doctors used to provide, somehow we say such a relationship suddenly becomes destructive to others. The doctor-patient relationship would be removing ‘love’ from the woman’s tank, and thus depriving her husband of her love.”

“So you’re saying that sexual relationships are not different, and that so long as they are responsible, caring, mutually well-intentioned interactions between adults, without deceit and lying, they are complementary and helpful to the world?”

“How is it that you’re able to say in two sentences, what takes me five minutes?”

“It’s only because you help me flush out the real meaning, with your brilliant Socratic method,” Samantha smugly responded.

Although when it came to religion Sam was still uncertain and conflicted in her beliefs, she loved the bond that she shared with Ian. She treasured their late night, theoretical conversations and those special times that they spent talking. There was total safety. There was never a worry that a topic or a thought, genuinely expressed, was taboo or off-limits.

Ian felt the same way. To him such conversations and intimate, theoretical banter—the likes of which he’d never even imagined were possible in a marital relationship—were a testament to the refuge and comfort that was their love.

Ian replied to Samantha’s patronizing repartee, “Well your summary of my argument was perfect, even though I haven’t fully come to that conclusion yet. I’m certainly headed there though! It still fascinates me why we assign so much power to a muscle contraction.”

“But you’re not saying you think it’d be okay for our kids to just go have sex like it’s a new toy they got for Christmas?”

“Absolutely not. I assume it went without saying that I would never, nor would any theologian I’ve read who discusses these issues, argue that promiscuous or careless sex could be defined as loving interaction. It is not. And in no way is giving someone a disease, or creating sacred human life willy-nilly, an act of love. That is no more love than taking advantage of an unsuspecting young person who looks up to you. That’s rape! Any of these things are so not the caring, consensual, loving type of adult relationship I mean.”

Samantha leaned over to Ian. “Are you saying you want to be able to have sex with someone else?”

Ian paused, then said, “You know me. I’m all talk. That’s not my point.” He paused again. “Fantasy on paper? Sure. But practically, it’s hard to imagine. Mostly I’m just trying to formulate my worldview, is all. You know I’m very happy.” He cocked his head slightly and looked at Samantha. “How about you?”

Samantha laughed. “Furthest thing from my mind. Remember, I’m the one who wouldn’t even remarry if anything happened to you. It’s certainly not something on my radar. No one would want me anyway.”

Ian chuckled as well. “Yeah, and I don’t have time to have an affair! I don’t know how people do it. Not only do I not understand running around lying, cheating, deceiving, and even destroying other marriages, but even if it was done in the way I was just arguing, I don’t know how people have the time to do it.”

“Ahhh, so time just might be a zero-sum game,” Samantha summarized with a smile. “Could that make your whole argument moot?”

“Interesting thought. I suppose not though, because the same can be said for all those other relationships that society and religion tend to value as sowing seeds of love—all those non-sexual relationships. But I suppose that you always do run the risk of cheating the ones you love out of your time. I think that’s a separate issue though.”

Samantha and Ian leaned back and chuckled at their silly, theoretical banter. Soon they shifted gears and began to talk of the real-life logistics and plans for the upcoming weekend, and even the following week’s schedule, while Ian would be gone to the Chicago Desoterica. Before long, they kissed and said goodnight in their not-at-all-uncommon fashion: Ian headed to the kitchen to read, study, or write, and Samantha called it a night.

Alternative Vows?

The events of the night were on Ian’s mind. He thought about his dear friends Bill and Megan. He thought about the conversations of the evening concerning Bill and Megan, and the issues surrounding marriages and relationships. Why were they so difficult for so many people? Why were 50% of marriages ending in divorce? Why were 60% of African-American children being born out of wedlock—or perhaps more importantly and correctly stated, being born to only one committed caretaker?

Ian reflected back upon Bill and Megan’s chauvinistic and archaic wedding vows. He then pondered his own “devil’s advocate” position about marriage, and an idea hit him. He wondered, what might an ideal wedding vow look like? If I could do it all over, perhaps in a parallel universe, what would my vows look like?

After grabbing a snack from the kitchen, he headed for the computer. With his dear Samantha in mind, he crafted an alternative set of wedding vows:

 • I will always love you. I know your soul. I know you like nobody else does. I admire you. I think you deserve nothing but the best. I ache for you when people don’t understand you, or don’t treat you with the love and kindness you deserve.

 • I will always be here for you. No matter what. No matter when. You are the single-most important thing in my life—even ahead of kids. I will be here for you to talk with, to cry with, to laugh with, and to sit silently and watch bad TV with.

 • I’ve got your back. I will care for and look out for you. I will do so in sickness and in health, mentally and physically. I will tell you when I think you’re hurting yourself—and tell you what you may not want to hear, when it is necessary. I expect the same from you in return. This is the essence of long-term commitment.

 • You will come first. Forever. No matter what. I promise you will come first financially, emotionally, and in all regards. And if time and energy are indeed a limited commodity—a zero-sum game—you and our family will always have mine.

 • I will be totally honest with you. Ask me anything, and I will not lie—ever. Without trust and honesty, all else is diminished.

 • I will try to meet your explicit needs. I know “trying” is not “doing,” but I will always make an effort to be flexible and to address your needs and wants that go unmet—physical, mental, spiritual, or otherwise. I am not a mind reader and may need specific instruction—perhaps even in writing (as silly as that may sound), but I will genuinely make an effort because I love you.

 • I will aspire to love you at all times in a manner consistent with that described in I Corinthians: patient, kind, does not envy or boast, not self-seeking, rejoices in truth.

 There are also things to which a human being cannot possibly consent or promise. Here are the items I believe one should not pledge.

 • One should not pledge that he or she will never love another human being, male or female. As it turns out, love is not a finite commodity, like money or gasoline. Loving someone else does not mean there is less love in my tank for you. In fact, love is a multiplied commodity—the more you give, the more you get.

 • To expect that we should meet all of each other’s needs entirely, is simply unrealistic. Be it sexually, interpersonally, recreationally, as sporting partners, business partners, or otherwise, it isn’t possible for us to be all things to each other, and be a perfect fit for each other in all areas.

 • One should not promise to be monogamous. It seems clear that this unnatural pledge of exclusive sexual relations “forever” results in more hurt, lies, destruction of trust, and destruction of families and homes than any other cause.

 It was an interesting experiment. Ian looked back at the words to see if he had sold himself at all on the argument, but his thoughts drifted to the safety of his committed relationship to Samantha, and how others in his community would respond if they ever knew the content of such private, late-night conversations. He had to stop and ask himself if he had lost it and become a “wing-nut.” His journey of questioning was now extending to every aspect of life. Had he gone overboard? Was it too much? Where was all of this headed? Where would it end?

*************************************************************************
Food for thought? As always, my intent is not to offend, but encourage conscious decision making. The worst reasons to do things a certain way are “because we’ve always done them that way,” or because we blindly follow the masses. Among others I’d suggest for further reading: a) Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage, by Stephanie Coontz (Penguin, 2005); and b) Living in Sin: A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality, by John Shelby Spong (New York: HarperCollins, 1988).

So would I do it differently if I had it to do again? Honestly, yes; which isn’t to say I would have done so “casually” or carelessly. Lovingly to have shared intimacy with more people, while minimizing relative risk, seems like it could have been an enriching and joyous experience. But TMI, and who cares what I think. What do you think?

And if this conversation didn’t challenge you, the rest of A Secret of the Universe still has a very good shot, regardless of your particular worldview. 🙂 Note: The views expressed in this excerpt are not necessarily those of the author (though are close), and the “other side” is extensively argued in A Secret of the Universe (Amazon link)–and to some degree in an upcomong post.

The official web site for the book is at www.asecretoftheuniverse.com. (Stephen L. Gibson, Copyright 2007 & 2009, Truth-Driven Strategies LLC; www.asecretoftheuniverse.com; www.truthdriventhinking.com; full blog at https://truthdriven.wordpress.com)

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