Sunday, November 17, 2013

My Coming Out

When I ask Christians about their views on homosexuality, I tend to get a lot of positive statements such as:
  • "You know what, God loves gay people too"
  • "That's not for me to judge"
  • "Gays are welcome here"
  • "It's all about God's grace"
I appreciate this attitude, because it's light years beyond the original Old Testament mandate to put homosexuals to death (Leviticus 20:13). Interestingly, this positive attitude toward homosexuality is very different from the view I developed as a child growing up in church. I think I understand why.

The church's fundamental beliefs about homosexuality haven't changed:
  • Living an actively gay lifestyle means you're living in unrepentant sin
  • You're a broken/deviant/wrong version of what God wants for you
  • You need to be repaired by becoming straight
  • You're in danger of hell
So while I appreciate concealing these fundamental beliefs with more positive statements, the church's fundamental beliefs seem to play a much stronger role in shaping a child's view of homosexuality. That was my experience growing up in the church, and that of most other boys I knew. I did not consider gay men to be real men, but wholly emasculated, covered in shame, sexually/spiritually debased, and hell-bound.

I never questioned these fundamental beliefs, nor had a real problem with them since I'd never met any gay people. I was always attracted to women, but did have occasional gay fantasies, despite my concrete conviction that it was wrong. I never seriously questioned my heterosexuality, but sometimes did wonder if I'd end up experimenting with homosexuality at some point.

The idea of engaging in homosexual acts was occasionally exciting while I was fantasizing. But after the mood passed, I was ashamed because I did not view gay men as real men. I figured that if I ever really had such an encounter, I would never be able to hold my head up again, wouldn't be able to live with myself. I'd developed homophobia from a church that claims not to be homophobic.

In my mid 20's I had my collapse of faith for unrelated intellectual reasons. It then dawned on me that I'd developed my view of homosexuality entirely at church, so I decided to reassess. I quickly realized that, short of a religious conviction, I couldn't find anything wrong with being gay.

Apart from "God says so", I tend to get these responses when asking Christians why they believe homosexuality is wrong:
  1. Homosexuals cannot reproduce together
  2. Homosexuals tend to be promiscuous
  3. Anal sex is physically dangerous
  4. Homosexuality is often linked to emotional trauma in the individual's past. Their best life would have been realized without that trauma, and they would likely have been straight. God still wants them to experience their best (heterosexual) life.
Here is my assessment of each argument:
  1. My parents have had sex hundreds, maybe (definitely) thousands of times, and have reproduced only 3 times. In the vast majority of sexual encounters, reproduction is not the goal, but rather is actively avoided (unless you're Catholic). Anyone who cannot physically reproduce, whether straight or gay, has several other options including my favorite, adoption.
  2. Heterosexuals also tend to be promiscuous.
  3. This is specifically an argument against anal sex, not homosexuality as a whole (same-sex love, other sexual acts, lesbianism, etc). Anal sex does indeed pose risks. Compared to the vagina, the anus does not naturally lubricate, the internal tissue is more prone to tears, and therefore poses a greater risk for spreading STDs. These risks are mitigated by safe practice (prudent partner selection, lots of lube, condom, no rough-stuff, stop if it hurts, etc). So, is anal sex worth the risk? The answer is simple: decide for yourself, and I'll decide for myself! That's the same answer I'd give to someone who asks if rock-climbing (or any competitive sport for that matter) is worth the risk. On another note, some repercussions of anal sex are rather exaggerated by anti-homosexuals, for example, the claim that anal sex leads to fecal incontinence later in life. This is largely propaganda (there is no epidemic of incontinence in older gay males, just ask them).
  4. Let's assume it's true that homosexuality is linked to childhood trauma, that it's a debilitation of sorts (which I don't believe). To then tell the "debilitated" gay person that they should stop being gay is like telling a paraplegic that she should walk. While some debilitations can be overcome through therapy, some cannot. All evidence (look no further than the incredible failure rate of ex-gay ministries like Exodus) indicates that a person's sexual preference cannot be changed by will-power, therapeutic or religious methods. Regardless of why someone became gay, the point is, they're now gay. When someone comes out of the closet, it is emotionally healthy to accept their homosexuality, and emotionally damaging to encourage them to be heterosexual.
Once I'd broken down the arguments against homosexuality, my feelings toward homosexuality began to gradually soften. As I actually met a few homosexuals, I noticed that they tend to be some of the most mature and interesting people, no doubt strengthened and stretched by the struggles they've endured living in a somewhat homophobic society.

I became intrigued by the sexual sameness inherent in homosexuality. Don't get me wrong, I very much appreciate the beautiful "opposites attract" paradox of heterosexuality. It's an unrivaled adventure to dive into the mysterious world of a woman's sexuality, attempt to learn how she works, and develop a sexual chemistry. But I'm intrigued by the idea of sleeping with someone who knows male sexuality first-hand as I do, someone who wants and feels essentially the same things I do. Just as there are beautiful unique aspects of heterosexuality, there must be beautiful unique aspects of homosexuality. I can understand why some might choose one, and others choose the other.

So, this is a former homophobe's "coming out" of the homo-friendly closet. I'm a heterosexual who has had occasional gay fantasies, and I affirm homosexuality as every bit as righteous and acceptable as heterosexuality. I believe any two consenting adults should be able to love each other romantically, marry, and raise a family together. I see no reason to discriminate one couple from another based on their genders.

The fact that many Christians today use such positive statements to express their views on homosexuality indicates to me that the fundamental Christian beliefs on homosexuality do not strongly resonate in their hearts. That is a great sign that the Christian culture is continuing to move in the right direction, away from obsolete ancient legalisms. But the fundamental beliefs on homosexuality are still deeply engrained and taboo in Christian culture. I'm enthused to see that certain progressive denominations are boldly showing affirmation for homosexuality, and look forward to the day when the church of my childhood can do the same.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Scope of Evidence

Christian apologists point out that the New Testament is the best attested document of the ancient world, due to the high and early number of copies. This makes Jesus life, death, and resurrection the best attested story in ancient history.

So, what conclusions shall we draw from the best attested story in ancient history? Well, it's usually important that the scope of one's conclusions match the scope of the evidence. This is a fundamental concept in statistics, where confidence intervals weaken as sample sizes shrink. For example, you cannot survey 25 Italians about their diets, and draw conclusions about the dietary habits of the human species. Another example, you cannot analyze a reported UFO sighting and draw conclusions about the nature of life on other planets. The grandiose scope of such conclusions does not match the very limited scope of the evidence.

The conclusion that "Jesus is God" is a conclusion of tremendous scope. Actually, it is the largest scope of any claim that could be made. It is a theory of all things, of the origins, purpose, and future of the universe and the human race, and of the existence and nature of other dimensions/beings and their relationship to us.

So then, what is the scope of the evidence for this gargantuan claim? The answer is: a small collection of ancient Jewish cult writings known as the New Testament. Yes, the only evidence to support the truthfulness of New Testament stories are the New Testament stories themselves. The stories introduce the main character Jesus, posit the gargantuan claim that he is God, and sadly serve as the only evidence for that claim.

But what about the fact that it's the "best attested document in ancient history"? Doesn't that give it a leg up? Well, once again, where does all this attestation for the New Testament come from? The New Testament!!! By "attestation", apologists are merely referring to the fact that the stories have been copied a lot, as there are a few copies of the same stories (often nearly word-for-word) within the New Testament, and the New Testament has been copied quite a bit throughout time. There is no outside attestation of the actual events. Quite the opposite, the rest of the world regarded this cult's beliefs as baloney, much as we regard cults today. It's all-too familiar, a small cult reports a universe-rattling event which oddly seems to have gone unnoticed by the rest of the population. No matter how you attempt to reconstruct the events of Jesus' life and death, you are reconstructing events which, at the time, failed to convince the vast majority of people that Jesus was God. I want to restate this important point; the Christian apologist is attempting to convince us of events which did not convince the vast majority of people who were actually there during the events (that's why Judaism still exists). To call the events "attested" is like putting a single drop of lemon juice into a pitcher of grape juice and calling it lemonade.

If the actual events didn't even convince those who were there, why should the sparse stories convince us 2000 years later?

So then, what conclusion shall we draw from a collection of ancient writings which depict twelve men following around a man they believed to be God? The answer is quite simple; we should conclude there existed a small ancient cult who believed their leader was God. To then adopt the cult's beliefs would require ignoring the tremendous deficit between the scope of the conclusion and the scope of the evidence, a mistake that many religions have made. (any mormons reading this?)

When it comes to drawing conclusions of such universal scope, we should require evidence that is similar in scope, not a handful of ancient cult stories. Analyzing the New Testament stories and concluding that Jesus is God (and all the theology/religion that comes with it), is an even greater stretch than analyzing a UFO sighting from 5 country-bumpkins and subsequently devoting the rest of your life to educating others about alien biology, and personally preparing for another extraterrestrial visit. Don't be a slave to stories.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Reasonable Arithmetic

There is certainly no shortage of Christian writing which aims to demonstrate the reasonableness of Christian belief. For example, take this list of popular books / sites:
  • Reasonable Faith
  • (Stand To Reason)
  • The Reason For God
  • Faith and Reason
  • Reasons To Believe
  • Reasons For Faith
  • The Case for the Real Jesus
  • Love Your God With All Your Mind
  • Compelling Evidence for God and the Bible
What do these books tell us about the reasonableness of Christian belief? We could (and ideally should) read them all and formulate our own opinions. However, we can ascertain one conclusion without even opening the books: Christianity struggles to present itself as reasonable. You would never see a book on the shelf titled "Reasonable Arithmetic", because arithmetic doesn't struggle to demonstrate its reasonableness.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

My $30/mo Smartphone

A month ago, Katie and I were still paying Verizon around $125 a month for 2 feature phones (aka dumbphones). We are now paying $60 a month for 2 smartphones. Here’s how:

Here are the details.

Verizon’s feature-phone plans are barely cheaper than their smartphone plans, and both are expensive. The price we see on our bill is always way higher than the plan price Verizon lures us with. And I don’t like being bound by those 2-year contracts. Time to ditch Verizon.

After considering several options, including using only an Ipod for all communication, I arrived at the following solution.

I found a prepaid carrier called Page Plus. They use the Verizon 3G network, which means coverage is identical to what I already enjoyed. They offer a no-contract monthly plan of 1200 minutes, 3000 texts, and 250MB data for a measly $30. I ported my phone to Page Plus, a very quick and easy process, and they terminated my contract with Verizon for me. Of course, I made sure that my 2 year contract with Verizon was up, lest Verizon charge me hundreds of dollars for early termination.

So at that point, I’d cut my cell phone bill in less than half, while keeping the same coverage, flip phone, and number. Sweet! But why stop there?

I then purchased a mint condition, manufacturer refurbished, Samsung Galaxy Stellar off Ebay for $110. The Stellar is a stripped down version of the Galaxy S3 (today’s flagship Android phone), but casual / first-time users like me don’t notice a big difference. The Stellar was just released in Sept 2012, and Verizon currently offers it free with a 2 year contract. This makes for an ideal smartphone to buy used on Ebay, as it’s very new and inexpensive.

Because Page Plus is a 3G only carrier, 4G phones like the Stellar aren’t officially compatible or supported. But with the right expertise, a 4G phone can be “flashed” to work with Page Plus. There are several services out there to accomplish this. I went with a fellow named Janarian; he charges $40, performs the service remotely through the net, takes under 2 hours, and accepts PayPal. The process involved cutting and inserting an H20 sim card.

The Page Plus $30 plan provides only 250MB of data, but several friends told me they never exceed that if doing just basic web/email. It’s the YouTube and other streaming media that gobbles data. But of course there’s no data limitation when connected to wifi, which is the vast majority of my time. So basically no YouTube when outside, no big deal. The email, chat, and calendar notifications are a huge benefit at work.

So now I’ve got a smartphone with the same coverage, the same phone number, and have cut my phone bill in less than half. At under $160 total, the smartphone is paid for by just 5 months of the savings I earn by ditching Verizon.

After confirming that everything worked beautifully for a month, I got Katie onto a Stellar and Page Plus as well.