Sunday, April 27, 2008

Heavy things

B asked this morning if he could start calling me his 'fiance', since calling me his girlfriend seems kinda lame now that we live together. Which just points to the need for something to call your cohabiting partner other than 'cohabiting partner' which is a totally lame title.

Does this mean we should change our facebook to "engaged?" Ha. I don't know why I'm being so iffy about all this. I mean, we do have semi-concrete plans to get married. Well not concrete in the way of actual wedding plans (cause we're not going to have a big wedding), but concrete in the way of we know approximately when we're planning on getting married at city hall.

Oh wait, I do know why I'm being iffy...cause I have family who is probably going to get all up in my business the moment we officially announce any kind of engagement. Especially on facebook...I have like 10 or so first and second cousins on facebook, and the second I change anything there they'll be calling my parents asking why they weren't invited to the engagement party. And then my parents will have to explain that since B is not a Jew they hate him despite never having met him, and are not endorsing our marriage in any way. And then I'm going to have random relatives calling me and trying to discourage me from marrying him. Wouldn't it just be easier to tell them after the fact? My friend didn't tell her family that she was married until a few months after she and her husband got married...I totally dig that model.

But then again, on the other hand, what the fuck family. I'm happy and proud that I'm with B, so why all the secrecy? Oh right, lack of unconditional love. Sigh.

So I guess me and B are pretty much engaged now? I don't have a ring or anything, and I don't want one. Having gone through all those shenanigans last time I was engaged, I'm thoroughly disillusioned with the whole engagement/wedding thing. Besides, I've always been the type to hate doing things the traditional way.

In other news, my dad sent me an email on Friday talking about regular bullshit stuff, and then was like "P.S. i got the results of my genetic tests, maybe we can meet for lunch in [my city] next Friday to discuss them". The genetic tests in question being the test for a BRCA2 mutation that his sister has tested positive for. The BRCA2 mutation being something that causes an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, that is a common mutation among Ashkenazi Jews. Did I mention my grandmother and her two sisters all had breast cancer, and that her 2 sisters died of breast cancer, and she died of ovarian cancer? And my aunt with the mutation also has breast cancer? I'm assuming since my dad is suggesting we talk about it in person after not visiting me for 3 years, this means he has the mutation as well.

After freaking out about this for like an hour, I realized that this doesn't really change anything in my life...I was already going to go for early mammograms cause of my family history, and I always get a yearly check up at the gyno. If my dad has this mutation I have a 50% chance of having it. If I have the mutation that means my chance of getting breast cancer by age 70 is about 86%. So yeah, I'm probably going to get breast cancer at some point, yay. The good news is that with the BRCA2 mutation (unlike the BRCA1 mutation) people usually get breast cancer a little later in life (like in your 50s and 60s), so by then hopefully they'll have cured cancer. :) The weird news is that I can't get tested at this point, until they pass that genetic discrimination bill, because if I do, future health insurance companies might refuse to cover me. Even after they pass it, health insurance can still charge my employers higher premiums for health insurance, so I probably won't get tested until after I actually have a job. But in more good news, that genetic testing discrimination bill just got passed in the senate and is up for a vote in the house this week. And Bush supports it.

So now my dad is visiting me for lunch on Friday? I don't have to worry about him finding out about B living with me accidentally, since we'll probably just meet up by my office. But maybe I should tell him me and B are planning on moving in together? (notice I like to say "planning" and not "already have" as I feel telling him that would be a mistake at this point). Or that we are planning on getting married? Maybe I should ask again if he wants to meet B? Although I think B can't get out of work until at least 2 on Friday...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Atheism is not a faith (guest post by B!)

Editor's note: My awesome cohabiting partner B asked if I could post a somewhat rough draft of some thoughts he has had on atheism. So here you are, a guest post by B! ~Abandoning Eden

I’ll be honest: as someone who does not believe in gods, I find the idea of calling atheism a faith rather offensive. It is not that it offends my sensibilities; it is that the statement stings deeply at the roots of what I have viewed atheism to be for my whole adult life. Atheism has always implied a vastly different emotional meaning to me than of a simple, dogmatic assertion that there simply is not, and could not be, gods. This stereotypical stance is a faith in a theory that is impossible to support beyond a shadow of a doubt. However, atheism means something different to me, perhaps a warped interpretation that is far from the original intent or definition.

Growing up in a religious home and being forced to attend church and Catholic private school have imbued upon me perhaps an equally warped view of faith. As far as I can tell, the hallmark of a religion is ritual, and nothing more. Ethics and morality, while closely associated with religion in the Post-Axial Age, are independent entities absorbed by religion (previously the domain of philosophers and legislators). Ritual is the only thing that all religions share, from Neolithic shamanism to Scientology.

Religion is also primarily a group activity; while an individual can (and often may) pray alone, there is a community aspect to every religion. In Pre-Axial Age and formalized state religions, the community may be a predefined tribe, nation or race, while many Post-Axial religions, especially in the Modern age, often involve some degree of choice when it comes to the community in which a believer aspires to join.

Atheism lacks both ritual and community. It is undeniable that atheism carries with it no inherent superstition (which is not to say an atheist is necessarily devoid of ritual or superstition). However, some may be quick to point out the existence of such “atheist” communities as American Atheists, the lobbying group responsible for removing prayer from public schools. I could argue at great length that a lobbying group isn’t comparable to a church congregation because they are fighting for the rights of all American citizens to be free of imposed religion (as their fight benefits not only atheists, but frankly all non-Judeo-Christians). However, this is unnecessary.

To put it in the perspective a person of the Judeo-Christian background can relate to, to accuse atheism of being a faith or religion is tantamount to calling Christianity (or Judaism or Islam or all religions, for that matter) violent. No one can deny that some people who are religious are violent, and no one can deny that much violence has occurred in the name of religion. However (to stick with the simplicity of an exclusively Christian metaphor), Jesus did not preach violence. It is not in the nature of Christianity to be violent, it is merely a consequence that humans are often violent and many people in history have been religious. I cannot define the Christian community for them any more than they can define me.

To put it another way: suppose you asked me what my favorite sport was. If I said, “I don’t like sports,” you would not then be correct in assuming I’m a couch potato, or even out of shape. To claim that an atheist is someone who has faith in something is jumping to an enormously egregious conclusion given very little information.

Everyone has their own definition of atheism, it would seem. After September 11th, conservative commentator and TV personality Ben Stein was quoted as saying the actions of the terrorists were “atheistic.” It’s rather sad that a man who was once on a TV show where he challenged all comers to a test of knowledge would so erroneously and ironically use such an adjective for the events of 9/11. Mr. Stein can no more decide for himself that these Islamic Fundamentalists were somehow atheistic than he can decide that atheism is somehow linked to barbaric acts of violence (especially those carried out in the name of faith). Even though it is clearly not indicative of an “atheistic” act, it is also only Muslim in its overtly stated cause and purpose. While this essay is not going to argue the philosophical and theological importance, impact, or intention of jihad, it is fair to say that the actions of terrorists do not define the entire Muslim faith.

I’ve said a lot about what atheism isn’t, and this is no accident. To be frank, there is no definition of atheism. While Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. are all clearly defined religions which contain a multitude of sects, subsects, local ministries and all manner of division, there is still a cohesion that is undeniable. Within any given religion (and even between Judaism, Christianity and Islam), there is more in common than there is dividing. This is far from the case with atheism because atheism is, at its very core, a rejection of the collectivist mindset. It has less to do with the existence of god as it does an individual’s decision to seek independent ideology.

Atheism is not a label identifying a group of people as sharing something in common. Among those calling themselves atheists are many who some would be quick to judge as “agnostic.” Perhaps this is the proper technical term for someone like myself. I do not claim to know there aren’t any gods, although I have been in an airplane so I am fairly certain there aren’t any bearded supreme beings lounging in the clouds. In fact, I cannot deny with certainty the existence of an unfathomable and undetectable being or place beyond our perception of Earth, the Solar System, or even the entire Universe. However, I will not simply accept the validity of every claim. If I am to accept the existence of god as plausible, I must also accept the possibility of the Loch Ness monster, Big Foot/Sasquatch, alien abduction, and the invisible pink unicorn (a deity so amazing, it can be both pink AND invisible at the same time).

The issue comes down to the concept of “burden of proof.” If the burden of proof lies on me to disprove all claims, I should no doubt spend my entire life frustratingly arguing with members of the Flat Earth Society (a real group) about the shape of our planet. This is not how logic has ever worked; one cannot claim X and determine that it can (or worse, must) be true unless X is disproven beyond any doubt. What’s more, I am not defined as a non-Xist simply because I don’t care that someone thought up X. All sound-minded atheists admit there may be a god, but that the probability of the existence of god is infinitesimal; this does not make them an agnostic.

Someone claiming to be an atheist does not want to be called an agnostic. Perhaps it is merely semantics, but the title agnostic carries with it a bitter taste of uncertainty. While all things are technically uncertain, once the probability of something becomes roughly equal to that of the probability of a wormhole spontaneously opening and pulling me into an unknown dimension, it ceases to be a valid concept for most (if only from a practical standpoint).

Agnosticism is also, rightly or wrongly, associated with apathy. Those who do not think or care about the existence of gods are often apt to self-title themselves agnostics [although most just claim the religion of their parents, who got it from their parents, who got it from their parents, until it’s been several generations since the entire bloodline stopped and thought]. While it is granted that several great minds have settled on agnosticism (including Siddhartha Guatama, the Buddha), I believe it is up to each person to define him or herself, and only him or herself. A Christian may judge others or hold grudges without forgiveness despite the nature of their self-applied faith label. Therefore, an atheist may remain an atheist while still denouncing the certainty of some, let’s call them Atheists with a capital “A.”

Friday, April 11, 2008

P.S. on yesterday's post

I've mentioned before how my parent's are totally in denial about me being an atheist/not religious, and will constantly ask me what I'm doing for holidays.

Well in yesterday's conversation that awkward moment happened again! My mom asked what seder I was going to, as if she assumes I will be going to a seder. I vaguely answered something about being invited to a few seders (true) but haven't made specific plans (also true). Of course this is a lie by misdirection- the reason I have no specific plans is that I have no intention on going to any seder (although a friend is having a seder for family and friends that I would love to go to, if he didn't live 3 states away). Actually, a few days back my office mate practically begged me to go to a grad student seder with her so that she wouldn't have to go alone, and I turned her down. I just can't stand those awkward social gatherings full of desperate single people who are only at this community seder becuase they are looking to meet their future spouse.

My mom then started going on about how she knows someone from my school who is driving up to her town before pesach, and that I could get a ride with him, etc, and I had to come up with something about how busy I am at work (also true). But seriously mom. Seriously. Why must we play this game of lies? I don't want to hurt her feelings by flat out saying I'm not going to any seder, but I feel like I'm totally leading her on here. Is it better to flat out tell her the truth so she stops asking, and gives up hope, or to just lead her on so that she doesn't feel bad, but keeps asking these questions for which I have no good answer?

It's the same dilemna over and over again. I feel like our roles are reversed now..when I was a kid she was protecting me from the 'evils' of the world, but now that I'm an adult, I'm protecting her from the knowledge of how things really are. I'm like that Mom who keeps saying "Daddy is on vacation" when really he just left and doesn't want to see his kids, or died or something.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

It's no secret how strong my love is for you

This morning a momentous event occured. Me and B moved his kitty from his house to mine.

Here's a picture from a year ago when all 3 of our kitties were hanging out. B was going to visit his parents for a few weeks, and his kitty (the one in front, mine are the black and white ones) came to live at my place.

I have no picture from today, cause his kitty is baricaded in the second bedroom for a few days since she is freaking out. It took them about 2 weeks last year to get to the point where they all were sitting on my bed at the same time..and even then, if the other kitties got too close, his would start hissing and growling.

So anyways, why am I talking about kitties? Well, this time his kitty isn't only visiting, it's coming to stay. Along with B.

That's right, B is moving into my apartment. Pretty slowly actually, since he still has a few months left on his lease. So far we have about 8 boxes (mostly stuff he doesn't really need, like DVD's and old stuff from college), and a kitty. Tomorrow he moves in his computer, and after that he will start living at my place and only going to his place to slowly move in the rest of his stuff. We plan on having it all at my place sometime around May. May is also when he starts paying his half of utilities, and in June (when hopefully he will be out of his other apartment entirely and not paying rent there, although that depends to some extent on his roommate and landlord) he'll start paying his half of the rent.

I can't even begin to explain how excited I am, and how happy I am as well. We've been discussing moving in together for a year, and now that it's actually happening I'm more excited than I was when I was engaged (to not B). My officemates make comments on how unusually happy I seem to be all the time. I spent 3 hours this morning moving around furniture in my living room/bedroom so that his stuff can fit. (part of that is I need to clean 3 years of paperwork off my desk so that I can move it to the other room, since that other room is going to be our office, and the room it's in now needs room for his clothes and stuff). I have a ton of work to do at work, but I keep rushing home to move furniture around and plan stuff. It's awesome. And I've actually never been more sure of something in my life....even when I used to be engaged I was unsure of my ex (and rightly so!), but with B I have no doubts or misgivings. I'm not even nervous! And I'm the type of person who always gets nervous about this stuff! But I have never done anything in my life that felt more right to me, or that I was more happy about.

Over all my happiness lies the shadow of my parents. I talked to them today for the first time in a while, since it's my dad's birthday. They ask all about what's up, and I tell them things about school (I just got word that I'm having a paper published, I'm working on a teaching certification, I'm defending my dissertation proposal soon, etc). And I make no mention of B. And I definitely make no mention of B moving in with me.

I feel like momentous things are about to occur. My parents have flat out told me that moving in with someone I'm not married to is unforgivable to them. Worse than being a murderer, in my my mother's words.

Of course, I don't have to tell them. I had a (male) roommate for about a year once, and I didn't tell my parents the entire time- since when I casaully brought up the idea of my male friend moving in my dad was like "OMG IF YOU HAVE A MALE ROOMMATE EVERYONE WILL THINK YOU ARE SLEEPING WITH HIM!!!!!" Which I wasn't. And everyone who? My dad's friends, 200 miles away, who have no idea what's going on in my life unless my dad tells them? My dad?

But now of course I AM sleeping with him. Different him, but nonetheless.

If I didn't tell my parents, chances are they would never find out. In the 4 years I have lived in this city, my parents only visited me twice, and both in the first year. First was when we got in a big fight about how they never visit me, and second was for a wedding. If any visiting is to be had with my parents, it's always me visting them. And I haven't done so since Thanksgiving (although I did see them for about 2 hours in December at my brother's graduation). Point is, they never come here, so they would never find out. I could live with him for the next few years, we could elope, I could move off to wherever I will move when I graduate, and I can pretend that we're still dating and not living together at all. Of course at some point they will probably figure it out (probably when I move off somewhere and I'm still 'dating' him), but it could easily become one of those things that we just don't talk about. Kind of like the way he is now- we just don't talk about him.

On the other hand, if I were to tell them, how would I do it? Via email? Letter? Over the phone? In person? My parents usually have a BBQ on memorial day weekend that I go to (except last year). I could go there and tell them. Of course, I would have to wait until the end of the weekend, and make sure I had a way to get back to the train station, in case they refuse to drive me there. Or I could casually mention it as I'm stepping out of the car at the train station. Or I could avoid the whole in person thing, as it may result in my parents being crazy and bad things happening, and I'm not sure if I want to be around for that.

Furthermore, should I even tell them? What good would doing so do? Yes, I would no longer be living a double life, I wouldn't be lying about my relationship, etc. But I would essentially be cutting off my relationship with my parents. Also, it would make my parents very upset and sad. Also, as I said, bad things may happen. My dad has a gun, (and a concealed weapons permit actually) and he knows where I live, and he only lives a 2 hour car ride away. And he's seen pictures of B, and we could only barricade ourselves in our house for so long. Although I guess I could call the police and have them take him away if it comes down to that...these ideas make me feel like I should just wait to tell them until I move off somewhere far away for a job, and just not give them my address.