As a mile marker of sorts in my journey to find ever-elusive truth about how the world really works (I’m not even close), here are my leading contenders for the “The Top 11 Lies That Americans Tell Themselves”:

11) People at the “ideal weight” are healthier than people who are ten to twenty pounds overweight; and people who lose weight assume the health characteristics of thinner people—even if they just lose a few pounds.

(Reality check: They aren’t, and they don’t.)

10)  There is a God and he will never give you more than you can handle.

(Reality check: With detailed critical analysis we can determine that it is extremely unlikely that any anthropomorphic version of “god” exists, and if he did we can’t disregard the suicides, mental meltdowns, and the mass fatalities that he doles out daily—so he can give you more than you can handle.)

9)  There is a Mr. or Mrs. “Right” out there for each of us. Once we meet him or her we will want no others; and if we do—or certainly if we love another—we were mistaken about the first person, and we are probably also bad and sinful.

(Reality check: By and large we are serial monogamists by culture, who discard priors and very, very, very rarely pair off and live maximized lives “happily ever after.”)

8) People are more moral if they believe in God, and conversely are more immoral if they don’t.

(Reality check: Empirically not true; proverbially speaking, prisons aren’t filled with atheists.)

7)  Money and competition are effective, long-term motivators.

(Reality check: For most they are not.)

6) There is a biological difference between the races.

(Reality check: There is no such biological distinction.)

5)  The health care system in United States of America is the envy of the world, and it provides the best care at a reasonable cost; there is nowhere you’d rather be sick.

(Reality check: By so-called “hard endpoint” measurements, we Americans spend the most of any other first-world economy, and are nowhere near the top in what we get for it.)

4) We live in a world where merit matters far more than luck; as in a multi-level soap company, nearly everyone who works really hard in our capitalist system can—and likely will—succeed and be able to achieve “financial independence” (a.k.a. retirement), as well as social mobility.

(Reality check: starting with the family you are born into, the deck is stacked. No one is a bigger advocate for this myth than wealthy thin people who got lucky and worked hard, yet erroneously attribute their “successes” in all things to only the latter; lots of people work very hard, and the overwhelming majority never advance classes from that into which they are born. Cycles of poverty or wealth are the rule.)

3)  We have complete “contra-causal free will,” and we each have choices, outcomes, thoughts, and reactions in life that are completely uncaused and without antecedence; we are our own “demi-gods,” capable of acting completely apart from any and all causal influences—environmental and biochemical, known and unknown. We can truly be “self made.”

(Reality check: There are no uncaused effects; contra-causal “free will” is an incoherent human construct, even if determinism is false and randomness rules.)

2) Given adequate access to modern medicine we live and age painlessly; are able to safely give birth to babies beyond our late thirties; prevent or fix just about every malady; defy and mitigate (or ameliorate) the ravages and diseases of aging; live past our late seventies; cure many cancers; prevent most heart attacks; and mostly can achieve “a clean bill of health” at any given time in our lives.

(Reality check: Good nutrition and gains in infant mortality have extended life expectancy from it’s giant dip one hundred years ago, but parts wear out at a predictable rate, episodes of serious back pain befall most of us by middle age; often painful degradation of mind and body ensues with continued aging; we all get some forms of cancer and/or heart disease—and eventually die from it by 75 years of age, 80 if we are lucky. On average, we have “cured” FAR fewer diseases and extended life far less than we believe, particularly in the fields of cardiology and oncology—though we find and “treat” many more cases, at outlandish costs.)

1)  “God did it.”

(Reality check: She had nothing to do with it.)

Please keep in mind that I remain open to new evidence on all matters, including these, and never claim to have any sort of exclusive lock on truth. I could easily be wrong. In my mind, almost everything I do is actually in the form of a question. It gets tiresome and wordy though when I muddily introduce consciousness-raising thoughts like those above, full of prefaces: “I’ve pondered this for years and wonder if these might not be common untruths. What do you think?” It’s just so wishy-washy, especially if the pile of evidence is substantial. It’s also less provocative and attention-grabbing.

You see, dialogue is how we humans learn. Truth-Driven Thinking has not been about the destination, as if Truth could ever be one; it’s been about the methods of learning—namely how we are often fallible in our emotion-driven thinking, and how we are often better served by taking action based upon evidence, reason, and the naturalistic methods of science. By asserting something and then learning from how it is challenged, I regularly grow and refine my own estimations of truth. The fact is that I can’t do it without you. I need you. So make no mistake, I am open to being wrong, and do not wish to sound arrogant here, in my Facebook posts, or anywhere.

That said, I do like to be provocative at times because a vital step in encouraging others to open their minds and recognize the possibility that they too might be flawed, and might not have 100% perfect knowledge of the how the world really works—is standing up and saying “this just might be wrong.” Sometimes calling “balderdash” when all of the current evidence suggests fundamental misunderstandings of how the world really works—is necessary.

Yes, ultimately it is a question: So, “Do you think these things are balderdash?” So how about it? Will you help educate me, and others around you, by asking provocative questions—or politely calling “balderdash”—when your evidences suggests something is?

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(Stephen L. Gibson is the author of  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. © 2011, Truth-Driven Strategies LLC.)

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Buckle up for the greatest of potential blasphemies. Here in Part I of a two-part post, you’ll be introduced to the great unthinkable. In Part II we will get to the part you really care about—what the prospect of living a giant delusion means to you, and to our world. So let’s jump in. Surely if you’ve read the blog for a while now and haven’t been compelled to your keyboard in protest, this could be the post that does it.

What if I told you that even if you are not legally or physically compelled by gunpoint or government to act or think a certain way, you are nonetheless still not free to make your own decisions? That in reality there is no such thing as human “free will,” only the delusion of complete autonomy of thought and behavior? What if I further suggested you did not randomly choose to read this article, and that in reality you could not have made any other choice but to read it—given the very specific circumstances that existed when you were introduced to the existence of this post? Indeed my assertion is that causes led to the effect of you reading this now. You did not have a free choice, and couldn’t have chosen otherwise.

Or what if I told you that neither you nor any human is a self-made person, no matter how brilliant and inspirational the narrative about the kid who came from nothing and did it all by himself or herself. What if I challenged you that even the tiniest elements of your life were “fully caused”—that they didn’t come from nowhere and nothing, but rather were the result of natural cause-and-effect forces, and thus were “determined”? I’m about to do that, and much more. Hopefully whether you agree or disagree, you’ll discover something about the way you think, and about the arrogance that comes from wholesale purchase of this problematic notion we’ve been sold: that our decisions are fully ours, are totally uncaused except in our autonomous heads, and that they originate solely from the “nothingness” that is our “free will.” You guessed it. I believed this all my life, but alas it appears I’m wrong yet again, and that this is not how the world really works.

To get you fully primed and riled up, let me further assert for a moment that your successes, your failures, your sorrows, and your victories are far less “yours” than you can probably begin to fathom! To paraphrase Jack Nicholson’s character from the movie A Few Good Men—perhaps we can’t handle that truth; but that doesn’t make it untrue. If I get my way here, you’re about to see how your delusion of “free will” destroys compassion, kills empathy, rapes peace, obliterates love, bastardizes the golden rule, and basks in your arrogance and ego-feeding self affirmations. Should be fun, eh? (Just wait until Part II.)

For me this topic is perhaps the ultimate stop along my journey of big questions. It has been among the scariest, most outlandish, potentially offensive ideas I’ve explored, and flies in the face of the very foundational assumptions of our merit- and competition-driven Western society. To utter such questions about “free will” is probably a greater heresy than questioning the existence of the most sacred of gods. But even as painful as it has at times been for me to admit, the evidence seems clear: all human action is fully caused, and thus fully determined—not by a top-down designer, and not by a god who physically moves the tectonic plates to create the tsunami or the aneurism—but by a non-designed, non-planned chain of cause-and-effect events that traces its origins to the beginning of time itself.

Of course as with anything, I remain open to arguments and new information. This is but an unexpected, unsought, and provisional estimation of truth—but it has also become a warming, comforting, and liberating worldview for me. I will comment more on this in Part II. For now, I hope you’ll try to follow along and give it a fair hearing; it is a useful metaphor for learning, even if you can’t fully accept the argument.

A Thought Experiment

Imagine for a moment the face of a newborn baby: not just any baby, but you! At the moment of your birth, and even weeks before, you were the culmination of a nearly-infinite number of interacting physical variables: mitosis, cells, neurons, maternal nutrition, chromosomes, immunities, physical defects or lack thereof, brain function, and many more. You were born into poverty or affluence, theological beliefs or non-theism, support or neglect, wellness or sickness, war or peace, plague or global wellness, and myriad other circumstances that uniquely defined your world—the world—into which you were born. These circumstances would be more powerful than you ever imagined. They would set in motion the very nature and course of the only existence you would know. In fact, between your biology and the natural makeup of your body and mind, and the circumstances into which you were born, I will argue that there would be no additional inputs—no other influences to the course of your life. You were a natural person, born into a natural world. (Even if you disagree, work with me on this. I know you’re thinking there could be a supernatural cause that determines physical-world “effects,” but more on that later.)

Now imagine another child, this time a child born into abject poverty in urban America—in this case an African-American infant we’ll call Ronald, born in 1982 into the country where “all men are created equal,” and we delude ourselves with the notion that there is equal opportunity for all. Ron was born to a crack-addicted mother in Detroit, with a relatively high IQ of 123. He was born into a Christian household, but with very little education or guidance of any kind. Drugs were the norm and survival was the game in the culture into which Ronald was born—at a very low birth weight it is worth adding. And while the circumstances of this child’s birth might be very different from those of your own, with both birth stories—yours and Ron’s—a series of cause-and-effect events progressed forward from an infinitely complex chain of these prior, “background events”—events that entailed the variables we’ve mentioned, and trillions more. But the chain progressed exactly from those births to this moment in time, didn’t it? Just as a butterfly’s wings flapping in South America has been said to be capable of creating a hurricane on the other side of the earth, the tiniest of events change the course of history—as did you and Ron; cause-and-effect is a funny thing. You changed the world as you were shaped by it, as was Ron. But still, there is more to the story.

Ron was smart, as we’ve said. Ron figured out that when he cried loudly enough, someone would feed him. That was his brain working—quite rationally, actually, even though he didn’t really know he was doing it. But as he aged, he made many billions of decisions that brought him to precisely where he is today. He learned to manipulate his parents. As he grew to pre-adolescence, he learned how to get what he wanted from others too, by intimidating his peers—even kids twice his age. Ron watched the pimps and drug dealers in the neighborhood, and saw the nerds in school getting nowhere. Ron made some pretty wise decisions if you think objectively—like the one to deal drugs. Ron got pretty rich. Ron prayed to his God, and Ron followed social norms and rules of conduct that applied to his world, not some “Leave it to Beaver” fantasy of another time and place. All-in-all, given his biology, his brain, the events and circumstances of every second of every minute of his life, Ron made very “wise” and predictable decisions at every step—at least to Ron’s mind.

Could It Have Happened Differently?

But let me push you a bit further. If we view Ron’s life—even from before birth—as series of decisions made by his cells, and then his larger brain, we see something interesting. Picture for a moment a snapshot of Ron at the point of any decision in his existence, no matter how momentous or how insignificant. You might picture his decision to cry or not to cry in order to get attention or get food; his decision to first smoke that crack pipe; or his decision to kick his neighborhood friend in the face—an act that established him soundly as the alpha in his peer group. As you envision a particular snapshot, understand how infinitely complex were the factors that led Ron to act or “choose” as he did at that split second in time: his biology, the amount of testosterone in his blood, the color of the paint on the walls, his hunger, his fear, his entire brain condition and chemistry, the weather, his genes, and so forth. Billions of variables existed in a very, very specific state at that snapshot in time.

Here is the essential argument: given all of those specific circumstances that comprise the picture at this single decision point in Ron’s life, there is essentially a ZERO probability that Ron’s “decision” to think or act as he did could have been made contrary to the way Ron made it. That “decision” was the culmination of an extremely complex chain of cause-and-effect events—all very “of this earth”—that led to Ron’s behavior and decision. Ron’s actions, in other words, were determined by myriad and complex causes. They were not uncaused. Ron did not, therefore, have the ability to “choose” in any conventional sense of the word—as we delude ourselves into believing he did. And here is the shocker: neither do you!

A “free will” worldview tells us that Ron has made a set of poor decisions. Ron is a loser. Ron deserves everything he’s getting in life. He may even deserve to die, versus the cost of housing Ron in prison and protecting us from him. But what if, in reality, Ron made the perfect set of “decisions” for Ron’s brain, given the circumstances into which he existed from before his birth, until this very day? What if looking back there was, in practice, no real alternative to how Ron’s body and brain could have interacted with his environment at any of the trillions of decision points that led from one to the other through the complex decision tree of his life?

But are we gods?

If you are like most, you are already coming out of your chair in protest. “We do have free will,” you want to scream. I know, I know; and I’ve been there. But as you ponder things further you’ll see it’s difficult to escape cause-and-effect, and indeed this philosophical debate has raged for over 2,000 years, so try to hang in there.

If in fact we can make uncaused decisions, as you might suggest, where do they come from? If we could defy our life experience, our specific biology at the time of decision, our training, our culture, our mental state, our heritage, defy everything we ARE and everything we know, and every biochemical signal at the time of a decision, at the risk of a false dichotomy it seems only one of two things can allow that: one, we behave randomly; or two, we are essentially our own “god” and exist outside of nature and all known reality, and we can overcome it in some magical way.

But clearly we do not behave randomly, as if there were no causes or reasons behind every one of our actions—no matter how wacky any single action may seem. If that were true, then there would be no predictability to anything you or I do. I might be carving pumpkins one minute, axe-murdering the next, singing lullabies the next, ad infinitum. But we are predictable, and we do not randomly make uncaused choices (again, “caused” being complex interactions of biochemistry, memory, experience, new stimulus, etc.).

But are we gods? Can we truly just change our minds, in an uncaused way, or behave contrary to all those things that define us in that snapshot of a decision? Clearly to do so requires a supernatural element or ability. It requires that we overcome nature itself, or have a non-natural input somehow cause us to behave outside all earthly causes and constraints. But both of these options put us on a supernatural level. If you argue a “non-natural” input that is an external deity—a god—in that case we are still not in control; we are mere puppets, determined by God. And if it is not an external supernatural god, then it is we who are the supernatural, magic-wielding gods, is it not? ([note added 11/3, 10:52 a.m.–there was a somewhat snide, passing Calvin reference here with a question mark indicating my lack of knowledge but suggesting Calvinist predetermination asserts that all things are predetermined, which is not what Calvinism teaches; I stand corrected. Indeed most Christians believe some things are determined by god but not others–a problematic assertion of “partial determinism” that we’ll cover later]).

So these are the two main choices: a supernatural god who leads us in a world without free will; or it is we who are supernatural gods, capable of operating outside all cause-and-effect. Of these, only the latter leaves us in with free will, but it’s a pretty vacuous explanation—that we are gods who magically transcend all laws of nature. Not very satisfying, eh.

For me, even though science cannot today—and may never be able to—identify all these natural elements of any given decision, the natural solution that all behaviors and thoughts are the effect of causes, makes the most sense of all to me. If this reasoning holds (and I am open to being wrong—though right for the wrong reasons would be preferable:-), the personal problem for us then becomes how we can accept this  deterministic reality, and why it might change everything about how we live, love, learn, and even govern our society.

One quick additional note: Many try to use quantum mechanics to argue against determinism, quite unsuccessfully from what I can tell. Unfortunately for them, it seems even quantum mechanics favors either a determined universe or a random one, but certainly not a partially determined universe where we control “some” things, but not all. If new understandings of the quantum world hold consistent, it still does not bode well for free will and the notion that we can initiate uncaused effects with our supernatural minds (otherwise known as contra-causal free will).

For now I will leave you with this. Whether you buy this determinism philosophy or not, modern science is showing that we are far less “self made” than we would think. Psychologists like John John Bargh are studying situational causes of psychological phenomena, and finding we have very little choice in how we react to many situations (see his book “Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Mental Processes”. It appears we are programmed by nature, quite literally, and decisions we make can often not be made otherwise under our biological, cultural, and environmental constraints.

In Part II of this post, we will move on to the meatier and more entertaining questions of what this argument means to you—and to our understanding of how the world works. I hope you will then see that whether you ultimately agree or disagree that we are fully determined—as the effects of causes—we can all do better when it comes to expressing compassion and understanding for those who have made some “bad choices” in their lives. Unfortunately for us, the unanticipated consequences of our compassionate understanding may be a need to rethink our worship at the alter of competition, and a new understanding of what “survival of the fittest” really means to nature.

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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 exactly what possessed me to go see the animated feature film “UP” is still a bit of a mystery. There were lots of reasons not to do so: time, no sources would be cited, there was nothing to be learned about Gnosticism or early Christian history, no awe-inspiring science or psychology revelations had been advertised, and they weren’t serving beer. Nonetheless, much as I’ve discovered about mythology and metaphor in history, there was such TRUTH articulated by this cartoon myth, that I would soon be fighting actual tears. (For the record, I did NOT “cry,” but was simply “tearing-up,” which was merely correlated with the film; it would be a mistake to assign causality without more data. It could have been the hvac system.)

So what got me to go see the movie? Probably it was the great reviews; perhaps it was the thirteen year-old guest staying with our two kids, or Pixar’s record of entertaining movies. Regardless, what’s more astonishing about my attendance is that I don’t “do” fiction/fantasy in almost any form—which I know is heretical coming from a geek wannabe, an author of a novel (one with 100-plus factual endnotes I should add), and an upcoming panelist on skepticism and fiction at this year’s Dragon*Con (I’ll redeem myself shortly, I hope). But the fact is that I’m never able put down any of my several “in-progress,” non-fiction books long enough to even consider something like Harry Potter, or the latest from James Patterson.

But alas, as in recent years I’m starting to understand—in the words of Joseph Campbell—“The Power of Myth”; and this movie is a perfect example. The poignancy, humor, flow, and life-like animation of “UP” not only captured my attention, it captured my heart and articulated a great life principal for entrepreneurs and adventurer-wannabes like me. And while I’ve skied great mountains, scuba dived ocean depths below 250’ (on straight air), and soared above the clouds in cockpits, the heights of my life articulated by “UP” will easily transcend those, as well as the adventures left unaccomplished when my days are all used up.

Like so many moving stories that chronicle the entire lives of their central characters, this one shows the beauty, disappointment, wages of aging, and pain that are all a part of living. As I can assure you is correct, we post-boomers who were raised to believe we can do or be anything, at some point in life realize that it was never true; and even if it had been, it clearly no longer is.

But in that realization, we who transition that mid-life crisis/realization can find great liberation. If we are lucky, we might even discover one of the great secrets of the human universe: love. We might just find that the heights we yearned to attain on the mountains “over there,” are heights we never even noticed we had already achieved on this side of the valley. Instead, we failed to notice we had already reached the summit, we failed to deeply fill our lungs with the mountain air, we failed to drink in the aesthetic beauty, and in some cases we failed to stop and appreciate those close to us—in our climbing team—who had shared the journey with us. This is the strength and moral of “UP.”

When we skeptics talk reason, facts, and truth-driven thinking over emotion-driven thinking, it’s important to note that most of us aren’t anti-emotion, or anti-human, or anti-mythology. In fact, as great New Testament scholars like Robert M. Price or Bart D. Ehrman have argued, sometimes it is when we insist upon literalizing metaphor and stuffing it into a dogmatic orthodoxy established by force and evolution over many centuries—that we lose the truth of the metaphor. We bastardize the mythological truth while shooting for literal truth instead.

Similarly, my family has long had a joke about films or sitcom shows that cross that reality line to the extent they become unwatchable. We call them “Sponge-Bobby,” after the frustratingly stupid antics of a certain square-assed animated figure. But the cool thing about “UP,” for me, was the ease with which I could completely suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride on the floating house. I felt no need to literalize the fantasy, yet at the same time the quality of the animation, the fluid flow of the thousands of helium balloons rigged by the curmudgeonly Mr. Fredricksen, and the beauty of the story and dialogue—lent the film substantial plausibility.

So while I may be humbled beyond words to sit on the panel discussion on Fictional Writing and Skepticism at Dragon*Con, I’ve come a long way, in recent years, toward seeing the power of myth to express what reality often cannot. “UP” is exactly the type of example I could cite. Perhaps it didn’t enlighten me on science, evolutionary history, or the history of god-worship, but it did some of what those things often do not do as efficiently. It gave me insights into the meaning of life, love, and the interconnectedness of our human experiences. After all, in the end, is either knowledge or experience of any value if not shared?

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(By Stephen L. Gibson, freely circulate with citations, CC 2009, Attribution-No Derivatives; 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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