"Just once after a checkup, I'd like my doctor to look up from her clipboard and say, 'Well, Mr. Carvajal, it says here you're...sexy.'"--a joke I've made at least a dozen times
My father-in-law made a crack after my last post that Carv's Thinky Blog was less agnostic than antagonistic. I know he meant that remark as a good-humored play on words, but it nestled in my head the wrong way. Is that what I've become, I thought--a constant adversary? Am I a killjoy? Does this blog do any good at all, or does it simply poke fun at its readers for cherished beliefs? I think it's important to ask myself these uncomfortable questions once in a while, just as I think it's important for you to confront why you believe what you do. We could all be wrong about anything or everything. It's a discouraging fact of life, but acknowledging it makes us smarter, maybe even better people.
I do my best to weigh seriously any argument presented to me. If I say something disparaging about Genesis, please understand I've actually studied Genesis in microscopic detail (Rereading the Bible, copyright 2011), so I've probably considered any objection one could raise in its defense. If not, I want to know where I've gone wrong. That's why I've always welcomed rational debate on any point, even as I did my best to keep things mutually civil and respectful. I'm not trying to make anyone unhappy, including me. Over the past few weeks, I've thought a great deal about why I write the way I do and why these subjects fascinate me so. Like many of you, I was raised in a fundamentalist religion. It's part of me. It's an element of my morality and the way I process information. But for all the bad days and inhibited social development, I'm not mad at my religion. I'm not mad at your religion or at you for having it. I don't think less of you for believing in God, even the Biblical Yahweh. I don't share your belief, but I'm friends with people who don't care for Star Wars (the closest thing I have to a religion) and we get along just fine so I know it can be done.
There was a time--and y'know, it may have lasted decades--when I felt a thrill of superiority while arguing with Christians. It gave me a charge to think I knew more than the person to whom I was talking. "You hold this book sacred," I'd think to myself, "yet you know almost nothing about it." And while that may have been true, it wasn't the whole or important truth. I know nothing about auto repair, for example, and while that does cost me money, it doesn't make me a less respect-worthy person. So I'm over all that, I promise you I am. It's a phase every apostate goes through, and it might even be necessary in the face of all the tugging and hostility and guilt trips we receive from people close to us. Our superiority buffers us against isolation. I don't need it anymore. My life is rich with love and friendship, as it has been for years.
People ask me what I think about the upcoming debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham, a Biblical creationist, at the so-called "Creation Museum" in Kentucky. My prediction? Nye will mop the floor with Mr. Ham...and still lose. The facts will be on Nye's side, every one of them, and he'll have a much better understanding of logic and evidence than Ham--yet Ham will walk away victorious. How does that work? Well, by debating Nye, Ham achieves an equal Q rating with Nye. He appears to gain equal credibility and stature. People won't pay attention to what Nye says, no matter how knowledgeable and interesting he is, but they will notice hey, kids! There's a Creation Museum! Pack the SUV! This debate elevates creationism to an altitude it doesn't deserve. It has no science to debate. It's not a working hypothesis. It's already been disproved a hundred ways. If it were true, flu shots wouldn't be necessary, nor would they work. If it were true, we wouldn't have mountains of fossils from longer than six thousand years ago. If it were true, the oldest human fossils would come from the Middle East, not Africa, and they wouldn't look simian. Should we also debate germ theory with an exorcist, or the curvature of the horizon with some yahoo from the Flat Earth Society? Gimme a break.
But evidence doesn't matter in this debate. You've read mine. Some of you have read every word of it. So have I changed one mind? Nope. I have not. Not through this blog or my book, anyway. The evidence is all on my side, but that doesn't matter. I've realized something these last few days, to a degree I may have never understood it before. The fact is, most of us don't believe what we believe due to evidence. That's a secondary concern. We didn't weigh all the data in college and come to an informed, adult decision; we decided as children. We believe because we like the promised outcomes of our belief. You may know somewhere deep down in your mind that the Adam and Eve story is a preposterous myth; you may even park it in some vague Heisenberg uncertainty zone in your brain next to Heaven, Hell, the Devil, Noah's Deluge, and the non-subjective value of prayer. But for all practical purposes, you'll go on believing in Genesis because if you do, you've been told you'll live forever and make God super proud of you and earn jewels for a crown in Heaven. And that's a pretty great deal! I can see why you'd be reluctant to give that up. The feeling of superiority I got in place of all that was by no means sufficient reason to change my mind. What happened instead was this: I stopped believing in my rewards for belief. I could no longer convince myself the Cosmos was going to cough up those goodies. It started to seem arrogant of me to even expect such wonderful treatment. Why me, not a porpoise or octopus? In the grand scheme of things, was I really so much more intelligent or moral than a dolphin or bonobo?
In this regard, I think I had an advantage many of you did not. Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe in the immortality of the soul, so I never did. They don't believe most believers go to Heaven. They don't believe anyone goes to Hell. And they emphasize the eternal perfection of God's wonderful plan (you know, that strategy wherein the only way Omnipotent God can end sadness and mortality is by killing His own son and then waiting for thousands of years), and that doctrine kinda got in the way of believing I could change Jehovah's perfect, eternal plan by asking nicely. So the Witnesses offered little, to me at least, in the way of self-serving rewards for devotion. Instead, they offered the charge of being right: morally right, and, more importantly, intellectually right. I felt pride, that most Christian of sins, in knowing I knew more about the Bible than other Christians. So when I found out I wasn't right at all, any reward I felt went right out the window. From then on, disbelieving in all the rest was a comparatively easy step.
You, on the other hand, retain that crown in your future! Lord A'mighty...ya gotta get that crown! So even if some part of you reads this blog, or any other agnostic commentary, and thinks, "Y'know, Carv may be onto something there," you'll probably still go right on believing that stuff you learned on Daddy's knee. I've met astrophysicists who went right on believing underneath all the science they knew. I had this amazing math professor, one of the smartest people I ever met, who could talk with undeniable authority about logic and Euclidean proof and the overwhelming evidence for evolutionary taxonomy, then go right on believing Genesis's magic garden story at the very same time. She understood this was a clear example of cognitive dissonance, yet the rewards for believing the Bible overcame her comprehension. Bill Nye won't change anyone's mind. Nor will Bill Maher, nor Richard Dawkins, nor I. Even the great Carl Sagan didn't change my mind, though he certainly reinforced my changing views. The facts were there before me always, I just had to wait to see them clearly until competing rewards sorted out.
So yes, I probably will talk some more about the Bible and Bill Nye and all that wonderful stuff, but mostly because I find it interesting myself. I know you'll still believe everything you want to believe. My facts and logic represent no threat to that. We'll all stay friends, and in some ways, you'll be happier than me, because your rewards will be better than mine. It's the hook of Pascal's wager, and it's something we nonbelievers will have to accept and get over. Godspeed, my friends. Enjoy what makes you happy. Life is hard enough without me knocking jewels off your crown all the time.
Instead, I plan to make you uncomfortable a whole different way, by talking about sex more this year. One of the nice things about being an agnostic is I don't have any great reason not to do that. Fornication isn't immoral in my world. Sex is a part of life, a fun part if all goes well, and almost all my readers have sex as well so you can't exactly act like you're shocked. I recognize we've made a cultural decision not to talk about sex in the workplace, but I work mostly for myself. So as this year rolls along, this blog will shift back to its intended purpose, which was to provide a place for me to talk about and market solo writing efforts. I'm in the process of trying to sell a new book about sexuality, and I have some ideas in that regard. (Coming soon, yuk yuk yuk.)
A caveat, and I think I've said this before: don't go overboard thinking I'm revealing my own sex life when I talk about sex in general terms. If you ask me in person, I'll probably tell you anything you want to know about my own experiences. For the record, 90% of them have been great, so if you've been part of my sex life over the last twenty-something years, give yourself a pat on the back (or wherever you feel it's most appropriate). I'm not going to reveal your secrets here, though. It takes two to tango, and I can't really talk about my own history without describing other people. They didn't sign up for that, so it ain't gonna happen. If my friend Gary Klein, for example, tells you something about his life here, that's on Gary. I mention him in particular because he's the narrator of the book I'm trying to sell now, an insider's look at the Bliss Panerotic debacle on Santa Catalina Island a while back. Gary was the brand management director for Bliss, so he was there when it--well. You remember. We won't get into that now. My point is, what Gary reveals about his sexual (mis)adventures applies only to Gary, not to me or anyone on my sexual CV.
Ultimately, I just want to be as happy as I can be. Part of that is feeling artistically fulfilled, and that includes conversations about subjects I want to talk about. You can keep your weather and local sports franchise, I'm more turned on by conversational taboos like religion and sex. At age 45, I find sexuality fascinating, though not in that OMG-I've-gotta-have-it-ASAP way we feel in our twenties and thirties. Instead, sex is simply a grand essential of human nature that I find rich and revealing. Freed from hormonal desperation, I can talk about sex from an overview, like a seasoned traveler who's made hundreds of trips to London. He loves the city, sure, and he's always happy to talk about it; he just doesn't need to hop on a plane and go there right now.
Here's hoping you'll continue to find this blog worthwhile and interesting, and that you won't always feel I'm trying to put you on the defensive. If, for example, you think sex should be totally private and has no place in public conversation, then more power to you. I guess we'll see less of you here, but that's your prerogative. If you're an atheist or agnostic who loved having me out here fighting for truth, logic, and the evolutionist way, I appreciate that, too; but dude, I don't want to spend any more time working as anyone's bulldog. I'm a lover, not a fighter. I'll let Dawkins and Nye have that fun.
Let's get it on! Happy 2014, everybody!