Thursday, July 29, 2010

On the Utility of Social Relationships

It is no secret to the reader of this blog that I am a highly passionate person, and that my passions can rule me at times. However, that said, I try to keep my writing here as detached and objective as possible, while still retaining a personal touch. In other words, I write from my experiences, but attempt to be logical and reasonable in doing so.

I explain this because my life has recently become very uncertain, and a lot of personal things I've believed for a very long time have been disproven. Unfortunately, this process makes a lot of sense out of some of the difficulty I have been known to have due to my idealism. It is, at best, devestating to have one's beliefs knocked out from under them like this, but I write about this particular belief in the hope that it will make some sense out of things for both myself and anyone that still reads this.

I have believed in love for a long time, and I've had my own particular way of thinking about it. It has been my guiding ideal, the altruistic drive that proves that people are worth my time. I've always believed that love redeems, and that it's something that will make one's life better. I've thought of love as the force of good in the world, something that treats everyone with equal value and creates a sense of balance, of justice. I've even come to view God this way, as the explanation for how He is. Perhaps the only part of this I still believe is that this is His nature: He loves perfectly, and that love is a perfect redemptive force.

I recently had a man come sit by me in the middle of the mall and tell me about Jesus. He asked me and my friend if we knew for sure what would happen to us when we died, and proceeded to articulate an extremely conservative Christian faith. I asked him where he went to church, and he named a Baptist Church. No surprise there, he articulated the Baptist theology to us perfectly. I mentioned to him that I was a jaded Christian, and he said he got that feeling from me when I didn't give him a straight answer right away about where I'd go when I die (I said I hoped I knew).

Those of you that know me probably think that this whole interaction pissed me off. In all honesty, I was appreciative to this man. Don't get me wrong, I threw away the tract he gave me, but I still appreciated that someone would take time out of their day and demonstrate that they care, however misguided they may or may not be. After all, I am no judge of the things he spoke of, I merely have my opinions, most of which change several times a day.

Personally, I was offended by several of his views. I disliked how much he railed against the academic establishment as being liberal, I thought that his tying of reading the Bible and going to Church as being what keeps you strong to be simplistic and legalistic at worst, and his once saved always saved theology is something I highly disagree with. His theological tone was appalling to me, and if he'd put it in writing I would have flamed him to no end.

But he came up to me, and his tone was entirely disarming. I don't know how much he actually cared and how much he merely wanted to grind an axe or how much he felt obligated to do what he did. But socially, he created an advantageous situation for him to articulate his beliefs to us. And it worked. I was polite to him, I listened to him, and I interacted a little bit. And then, when he felt satisfied by the interaction, he walked away. I recommended him a book, one that with his views, he will probably disregard or never read.

The two levels of this interaction, the social and the conceptual, are such an interesting thing to me. If I am friends with a person, those things are the same to me, or at least as close as I possibly can make them. However, I am an oddity in this world because of that habit.

In normal social interactions, people seldom say what they think. I am included in this. When I can tell it is pointless, I merely play the part. This could be because I avoid confrontation, or it could be because I simply do not care. Maybe both, maybe something else entirely. But the point is, when someone becomes my friend, or when they address me personally, I spare them no hint of the truth about me.

Another interesting fact is that I have lost contact with most of the friends and all of the women I have been intimate with over the years. The relationships simply dissolve into thin air. Someone I hadn't talked to in years contacted me the other day and asked me why we hadn't talked in so long and that it was wrong, and I told her that she had blocked me on Facebook until recently. She immediately stopped talking to me. I suppose that conversation didn't call for honesty. My bad.

But I digress. I am here to talk about love and social relationships. I have a few friends that I have been able to have a lasting connection with, regardless of distance and circumstance and despite, seemingly, myself. They are good people that have known me and accept me regardless of my multitude of flaws. They are not critical of me except in ways that are beneficial, and they support me even when they don't necessarily agree with me 100%.

They are the exception. This refers to less than 10 people I have met in my nearly 25 years of life, including my immediate family. In many other cases, I have had so called friends be nice to me to my face and tell others I know things that frustrated them about me. I've had some spread lies about me, and I've had some stop talking to me for no apparent reason. This is their prerogative, but what strikes me as interesting is how much they all emphasize truth and love. They're all religious people, and they all have idealistic beliefs about how to live rightly, and they all believe zealously in absolute truth.

I am no ivory tower of love and altruism, and I am not honest to every person I come across. If I am less than truthful, I try to make it for a beneficial reason, but in general, the more honest I am, the more I am met with distrust and hostility. This applies especially when it comes to religion and philosophy, and I suppose that makes sense. Hot button issues, especially idealistic ones, are more detached from the every day than most things.

"...sometimes the truth isn't good enough. Sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded." -Batman: The Dark Knight

Society is profoundly sick with fear. Honesty is a scary and awkward thing, and it's hard to handle most of the time. More people are motivated by fear than anything else. I was evangelized by a well meaning individual who used the fear of death as a way to get into a conversation and convince me of something. I've seen more relationships broken because someone could not handle the truth, more friendships die because people valued their ideals over the people right in front of them. We are not driven by love or truth, we are driven by convenience and fear.

I am often told that the way I approach God and religion is dangerous and scary, and I have to agree. I know very few things for sure, and I merely have hope about everything else. The religion I grew up with has rejected me almost totally, and I'm better off, if not as secure, without it. But what good is false security?

The truth is scary, and we are afraid of it. The truth is, love is the most inconvenient thing you can possibly think of. It means giving up everything that you are for other people. It means challenging yourself constantly to sacrifice more, to give more, and to be invisible. And hopefully, those people will do the same for you. But most of the time, they will not.

Love is not a victory march.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Why I am [Almost] a Relativist

Claims to absolute knowledge are nearly as plentiful as there are people. The religious person is the expert of claiming that there is absolute knowledge, and that they have that knowledge. The latter part of that claim bothers me much more than the former.

There are numerous religions, and numerous factions within every religion. There are numerous people within every religion, and there have been disagreements from the start of the world, precisely because no two people see things the same.

Why then, do we spend our time trying to convince other people that we are correct? Do we believe we have special wisdom no one else has? Do we believe we are God's gift to the world?

I've listened to Christians for years go on about absolute truth and how we have to save people by convincing them to intellectually acknowledge their beliefs, and frankly I'm tired of it. When I say I don't try to convince people to believe in God how I do, I am told it's because I want them to go to Hell. Typically, how I want to respond is "no, I want you to go to Hell." And then, when I explain to them my view of God, I am disagreed with, mostly because I don't find there to be very many imperatives to how God wants us to live.

I don't believe God is pissed off about people having premarital sex or gay marriage. I don't think God wants everyone to be straight, everyone to be a particular brand of religion, or have particular political views. So why do we think that?

The God I know is the only thing keeping me from being a relativist, and I still don't believe in very many absolutes, for one simple reason: I listen to other people and evaluate all of my beliefs as honestly as I can. In doing so, my beliefs have been kicked out from under me far too often, and I am simply tired of blindly committing myself to a set of beliefs and then realizing what kind of a person that's made me, and what exactly I have allowed my mind to be enslaved to.

Morally, I find what does harm to others or to ourselves to be reprehensible, but that tends to vary wildly with very few exceptions. Even killing as an act can be acceptable based on situation. For example, presuming I am married sometime in the future, if I find a man in the process of raping my wife, I will kill him, and I find that to be justified.

That is a far cry from drugs, casual sex, drunkenness, and any other vice that the Christians I've spoken to about morality tend to get uptight about. I find those things to be harmful to me, and I imagine they have more implications for life than a lot of people realize. However, I do not find them to be morally wrong.

People all see God a different way, but the only things I have found common to all people, regardless of how they live and their faith, is that people are of value, and should be treated as such. Even if it is simply in the inner recognition that leads to defending oneself, people do believe this. And I believe that value comes from God, the one that created us, that gives things value.

That does not mean that we must align with a church, tell people how not to go to hell (as if we even know the exact machinations of how God relates to humanity), or push what we believe on others. It means we're free, and it means that respect and love are the right way to treat people, regardless of the specifics.

Morally, religiously, and intellectually, when speaking of specifics, I believe that what is true for me may not be true for you. Even when it comes to larger things like religious affiliation, sex orientation, lifestyle choices, and how you see God, I don't think there is any totally right answer. I believe this precisely because God and reality are larger and more creative than anything we can possibly imagine, and we each have a bit of it in us.

A true relativist doesn't believe in any sort of Truth, and as much as I want to put myself in that camp, I can not do so. However, what I can do is suspend my beliefs at will whenever a conversation happens, for the sake of allowing myself to be wrong. I believe what I believe because I think it is right, but I do not hold myself to be on the high pedestal of knowing absolute truth. It's simply arrogant to do so.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

This Moment Is Perfect

I sit in my apartment, alone in my consciousness, my roommates dreaming of other things in their lack thereof. I feel disgusting due to attempting to sleep for hours after my body decided it was time to either be awake or have a panic attack after a mere 4 hours of sleep. Through the classical music I am listening to comes violent dissonance from a phone ringtone. I need a shower, and my face is slovenly unshaven. I have assignments due for school this week about things I care about, and I do not care to do them. I have money to live where I am for now, but no job. I am not moving forward in any measurable sense at the moment, I am static, stagnant, and entirely fascinated with being so.

"There is not a thing in this life that does not hold some fascination."

But I am moody. Shortly I will become annoyed with this state of affairs, and I will do something to pull myself out of my mental and emotional slump caused by nearly everything I knew a mere two months ago being torn out from under me. I now attend a different college. I thought I would be getting married in a little over a year and it is now obvious to me that it will be much longer than that, and to a different person. I was excited about my Masters' Degree and now my excitement is entirely detached from my heart, being a mere intellectual interest. I desire a daily routine that will bring in money, but I also enjoy the freedom of not having to do this. However, given the choice at the moment, I would rather work a meaningless job that interacts with people regularly than work in a therapeutic setting and study to move up in the field.

My passions have been burned from me, as seems to always be the case. I am a creature of dissonance, an unpredictable force whose only constant is writing from his head and his heart. And yet it all fascinates me. The moment I am pressured, I rebel, I move away from the things I love. I am a difficult person to keep in any way, and I've left broken relationships behind me, everywhere. Friends lose contact with me gradually, romantic relationships that were such a sure thing simply fall to pieces, acquaintances passively ignore or avoid me. My few constant friends are a source of tremendous joy for me, because it means I am not entirely alone despite my inherently chaotic nature.

What kind of a future is there for a person such as this? Will it really fit into a typical framework with a 9-5 job, 2.5 children, continuing education in a professional field, and honest work? I desire the constant companionship of a wife as I never have before. Not with my emotions, nor with my intellect, but with something deep within me. I am made to integrate with another, and that other must understand me to be uniquely damaged, broken in a way that no other is, one that belongs everywhere and nowhere. Perhaps we'll travel the world, doing random things for people, making friends and moving on in the same breath. Perhaps we'll live with other friends, fitting into a setting uniquely, living a small and satisfying life.

I belong to no religious affiliation. Christianity offends me, deep within my soul, as does anything that dictates what my heart should feel. I am wild, wasteful, amoral, areligious, and religion's attempts to "save" me have felt like nothing but power of other men like me attempting to align me for some purpose. Simultaneously, I know God. That force that runs through me, that mind that contacts mine and hands me wordless concepts, beautiful phrases and paints pictures of the reality that our mundane cultures, religions and social schemas flow from. The Christian God? Allah? Yahweh? It all falls terribly short.

If there is one thing my incurably diseased soul lives for, it's that energy it contacts, the thing that sets me on fire. It's the reason I fit nowhere, and the way in which I flow into every corner I can. I seem to lack the ability to specialize, and if I am subject to any other person it is always by choice. Despite being chaos embodied, my spirit is gentle, and I don't want to hurt other people. Yet, power comes from somewhere and flows through every interaction, and I've learned to act responsibly through destroying others and being destroyed by people that have claimed to love me. I tie others to my will so easily it scares me, and I suppose that means I could manipulate others very easily. Maybe that's why I am still so entirely frightened by every social interaction that I do not completely understand.

Faith in humanity? Give me one good reason to have it. I do despite myself, and for that I hold rage toward my meaningless idealism. It's that thing that keeps me honorable, because it is right, and not for another person's sake. Once, long ago, I knew how to love other people without expecting a thing in return. I think that was burned from me as well, and I mourn its' passing. Perhaps I'll learn it again, in a way that is unkillable, even if I am killed in the process. I suspect this is the journey ahead of me.

You don't understand, and yet you do. Because I am nothing, an alien, and yet I am so very human. This is not even scratching the surface of myself, because what I understand of this person I am is nothing compared to what I do not understand.

This moment is perfect. I am fascinated by it, and yet revolted. Time to move on.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


"Adolescents tend to view themselves as somehow unique and even heroic--as destined for unusual fame and fortune. Elkind dubs this romantic imagery the personal fable. The adolescent feels that others cannot possibly understand what she or he is experiencing, and often this leads to the creation of a story, or personal fable, which the adolescent tells everyone, although it is a story that is not true" (Crandell, Crandell and Vander Zanden, 2009, p. 380).

Sometimes I read something that strikes a chord in me, and I have to come here and make my special kind of music around that chord before it stops ringing in my head.


I remember feeling like this. I still do on occasion. I was the hero of my own story, the main character, the egocentric center of my own universe. Nothing could happen to me, I would never make mistakes that wouldn't somehow work out in the end, and I know everything. I live the right way, believe the right things, and if anything comes up amiss, it will all get tied back together into a neat little package.

It seems a bit silly to all of you probably, because you're likely aware that life doesn't work that way. If you're not, perhaps you live in a personal fable.

Life is a mess. Life is full of broken promises, unfulfilled dreams, things that were supposed to work out but didn't, and all because people can't seem to understand that life is not about them. When they're confronted with this reality, they get very, very pissed off. They pitch a fit like a child, precisely because this is a tendency present in somewhat childlike people, adolescents.

Personal fables stunt our growth when we can't distinguish between them and life. But sometimes things run through them that are part of our potential. And what does it come down to? Naturally, choice. Because life is not a set of ideals, it is a tragedy. We write our own stories, but we must also realize that others write stories that interact with ours', and so does God. What a messy, beautiful, tragic thing.

Crandell, T.L., Crandell, C.H., & Vender Zanden, J.W. (2009). Human Development (9th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Case for the Value of the Twilight Saga

An accusation of insanity would not be far off from my mental state right now.

However, consider a few things for a moment.

Insert spoiler warning here.

Admittedly, Twilight (the first book) is an unrealistic romance. Not only that, it's downright cheesy at times, and the portrayal of vampires is -not- traditional by any means. Though it's explained well and makes sense (yes, even the sparkling), it still can not be placed in the same category as a vampire, at least for me. I think we all know the story, a girl falls in love with a vampire, there are about 100 mind-numbing pages of descriptions of his body, and he returns her love and protects her from everything, mostly perfectly.

New Moon introduces another drastically flawed character, but not one like Edward Cullen, who is seemingly this impossibly perfect model of what a man should be. Jacob Black (aside from Taylor Lautner, gag me please) is by comparison a drastically immature character that is extremely manipulative with his pursuit of the protagonist, Bella Swan. He is an excellent character because of how easily relatable he is to how many people feel. While Edward is like Ice, cold and unmoving and seemingly passionless in the face of a situation that would make -any- man jealous, Jacob is like fire, constantly governed by his passions and will stop at nothing in his pursuit.

The contrast is fascinating.

Even more fascinating is the fact that in Eclipse, Edward is the one chosen. The sun is eclipsed by darkness, or more aptly, fire is defeated by ice. The dispassionate Edward is shown to be true to his word, and he constantly shows a kind of infallible love for Bella. Even his mistakes show love, and it is that love that wins Bella over, even though she also loves Jacob. She sacrifices everything she possibly can for him because they bonded in New Moon, when Edward was gone.

Breaking Dawn is a story of marriage, and it quickly comes down to Bella being nearly killed by her unborn half vampire child. Edward is again willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to protect the one he loves, and eventually comes to love their child, and Jacob goes from being completely devastated by rejection to imprinting on the child, solving the love triangle present throughout the series. His commitment is absolute, and he goes from being a violently unstable individual to a constant protector of the child.

You may wonder why I am going on about impossible amounts of seemingly soap opera-like drama. Here's why.

Firstly, having had the experiences I have, I don't think a lot of it is too far off. Love is a messy thing, relationships are a messy thing, and no amount of talking about destiny or soul mates will change the fact that they are a choice. Both people choose, and they continue to sacrifice whatever it takes to make it work, and it works.

To digress slightly, no man is like Edward Cullen. The constant impossibly selfless behavior, the ageless physical beauty, and the flawless display of manners all held in perfect balance is nothing short of a fantasy. Jacob Black, while being much more realistic, is also a fantasy. His passionate nature that so entirely governs him and his immediate attachment to the one he should be with, no matter how well explained are fantasy.

This brings me to my second point. The fact is, the human heart is a fickle thing. But one thing that makes stories like Twilight so interesting is that they show us some of the best parts of ourselves. Because a man can be a gentleman, and his passions are able to be governed. And a choice to be with someone, to love them for their entire life, can be final. Though life does not often work out in a neat set of ideals, and never seems to at all times, I think it is beneficial to remember that these ideals exist within flawed people, and they can be chosen. Life is not always clearcut, but there is a thing about Twilight, as an idealistic series, that is very captivating because it speaks a little about the human heart and how it can work.

Lastly, I think it is important to be guarded, no matter who you are, when confronted with beautiful ideals of any kind. Because living merely by many ideals is not acknowledging a great many things about what it is to be human. A woman looking for Edward or someone with any one of his characteristics at a constant will be disappointed every time. A man trying to be such an ideal will quickly find himself lacking, because the truth is life does not work that way. It is possible for a man to be honorable, and to hold to ideals that make him an excellent mate.

It is impossible for anyone to be perfect, and anyone expecting perfection out of the one they claim to love might as well hate them. Forgiveness is as much a part of who we are as humans as honor and love and respect are.