The following fictional story is based on a lot of people’s true stories:
Matilda was different from the other girls right from the start. She preferred running around and playing sports with the boys, and had no use for dolls or tea sets. As soon as she could talk she started asking for her hair to be cut short and to wear pants instead of skirts. Her parents would frown at her and say, “But you’ll look too much like a boy.” Matilda didn’t know what was wrong with that. Strangers would frown at her say “Is that a girl or a boy?” Matilda knew it wasn’t really a question, it was just a statement of disapproval. The girls at school started offering to give her a makeover, but she refused, and eventually they started to avoid her altogether. The boys at school stopped playing sports with her, and began to either sexualize her or refuse to associate with her. Then the accusations began. “Are you a lesbian, or what?” Matilda hadn’t dated anyone yet, but she was already being punished for dating the wrong people.
Soon after the accusations started coming from her peers, they started coming from her family too. “It’s wrong to be a homosexual,” they’d say. “It’s clearly laid out in the Bible,” they’d say. “It’s not natural. It’s a sin.”
Matilda was already labeled a sinner before she had ever sinned. They told her “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” but they didn’t show her any love. They showed her hate. What had she done, exactly? To sin is to violate a moral law. Had Matilda violated a moral law by being different from her peers? Was it a moral duty to conform? They said “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” but they already hated Matilda, not for anything she had done, but for an inner nature they suspected she had.
Eventually, the accusations were revealed to be true. Matilda realized that the warm-and-fuzzy feelings she had always felt for other girls meant something. At adolescence they grew stronger, and they grew into romantic love. Matilda loved the way other girls looked, the way they talked, the way they laughed, the way they flirted. One girl in particular caught Matilda’s attention. She fell in love, and she wanted to take care of this girl, to give her everything she wanted, to protect her from harm, to spend her days and nights with her and to always be by her side. She exploded with joy anytime she was with her beloved.
She had finally sinned.
What is this sin, exactly? Is there a moral law that women should not appreciate and care for other women—creatures who are a part of God’s creation? Is it a moral law that women should not show their appreciation, devotion, affection, adoration, and awe towards God’s beautiful work? Isn’t love a virtue? Isn’t love the ultimate good that exists on Earth? Isn’t love a beautiful gift from God, and isn’t love synonymous with God? How can the virtue of feeling goodwill toward God’s creation become a sin because of the genitals of the people who are feeling it? What kind of God would create creatures who are capable of love and then tell them not to love each other?
Matilda asked questions. They told her, “It’s the act that is a sin. Fornication is a sin, sodomy is a sin.” They told her that she could remain virtuous if she didn’t act on her desires. Matilda understood that in order to not disappoint God, who is Love, she would have to hide her Love away and make it disappear. She understood finally what they were saying. They were saying that you have to obliterate love in order to please the embodiment of Love.
Matilda realized that they were full of nonsense, and they didn’t know the first thing about the God they pretended to know.
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I think that organized religion is a bunch of nonsense, but that doesn’t mean I’m not spiritual. I don’t generally write about spirituality on this blog, for two reasons. The things I do that give me spiritual purpose are real-life activities I engage in that could reveal my identity if I wrote about them. I also insist upon being an atheist and I worry that being spiritual would contradict that. This will be just a quick summary of what spirituality is to me, without getting too far into detail.
I have spiritual experiences, and when I say that I mean that I have things happen to me that feel existential, important, life-affirming, joyous, and hard to explain. The notable thing about my spiritual experiences is that they consist of feeling awe. They are personal feelings of wonder toward things that are beautiful, whether they are sights, sounds, tastes, or physical feelings.
Sometimes I find the word “miracle” useful to describe something that seems wondrous. I don’t believe that humans can walk on water, or turn one loaf of bread into a whole bunch of loaves of bread, or place their hands on a sick person to make them well. I believe in all the laws of the physical universe, and if something is impossible then it’s indeed impossible. But there are some things that are awe-inspiring and that appear to be impossible or inexplicable, even though they do exist. I like to call them miracles, to acknowledge the awe they make me feel.
Life on earth is a miracle. How a bunch of rocks and water gradually turned into complex beings who are aware of their existence and can manipulate the world to their advantage is awesome and inexplicable. We know it’s possible, because it happened, but we don’t understand how or why.
A lot of human accomplishments are miracles. I know that all of my readers can name plenty of awe-inspiring human accomplishments. Here’s my example. One of the things that has always provided emergency comfort when all hope is lost is Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. Consider these amazing facts. In the year 1808, a German man drew some black marks on some parchment that represented sounds that he was imagining. Over 200 years later, people who never knew Beethoven and never set foot in Germany can still interpret the black marks he made as instructions for how to produce sounds on special objects made of wood and metal. Those sounds, when produced, still sound like the scene he imaged: the countryside, a river flowing, a community of peasants dancing, and a storm. How it’s possible that images can be represented by sound is totally beyond my comprehension, but there it is.
I’m guessing that most of us feel awe at one point or another, but I think that some people are more likely to feel it than others. I think some people spend their lives looking in the wrong places for things that are wondrous. Some people think that domination, power, control, material possessions, and outward appearance are where they’ll find meaning, but I think those people aren’t finding any. If you take away their power and material things, their meaning is gone. If you really know what meaning is, then no one can take it away from you, because it dwells within you, and it can’t be bought or sold or contained.
I think it’s legitimate to talk about a life force, or a source of love, and it’s possible that that’s what some people mean when they say “God,” but this concept certainly isn’t embodied by a supernatural father figure, and it can’t be experienced through obedience to rules. I also think it’s legitimate for a community of people to come together on a regular basis to explore the meaning of their lives, to sing together, to mark the passage of the seasons, to do good things for the community, and to teach positive values to their children. I might be tempted to join such a group if they didn’t spend a lot of their time also talking about mythical characters as if they’re literally real, because that shit is insane.
I think it’s legitimate to have personal felt experiences that are life-affirming and hard to explain, and it’s legitimate to think of those experiences as coming from a source of life or a source of love. What’s not legitimate is to require the people around you to validate your personal felt experiences, or to require them to sacrifice something on behalf of your personal felt experiences, or to create laws taking away rights from entire groups of people based on your personal felt experiences. That’s why I don’t support either conventional religion or the dogma of transgenderism being enshrined into law.
Sometimes people struggle with being both homosexual and wanting to have a personal relationship with a source of love. It’s sad that this is a struggle because it doesn’t need to be. The struggle is created by the fear and ignorance of human beings, and the desire to enforce patriarchy. Only the mythical father figure in the sky hates gay people, and he’s as imaginary as Santa Claus. The real source of love only knows how to love.
As with all other culture wars, there are extremists on both sides who get a lot of attention, and the middle ground is not necessarily easy to find. To a person who needs spirituality and who is coming to terms with being lesbian or gay, it might look like the only alternative to being holy and celibate is being completely anti-God. But there is a middle ground here.
To Matilda, from the story above, and to anyone else who wants it, I offer the following spiritual lesson.
Your existence is a miracle. Your body and all its organs that work together to give you five senses, mobility, and consciousness, is a miracle. Your mind and its ability to think, feel, and love is a miracle. There is endless beauty and love around you. It’s there any time you look for it. Whatever it is that makes you feel love is a blessing. That blessing comes from the same life force that brought you here. Whenever you feel love or awe, you are connected to the source of life. You cannot connect to this source by crude mechanical means, or by following dogma, or by accumulating possessions, or by gaining power over others. You connect to life and love by allowing yourself to feel awe and adoration for other creatures and for nature and for the miracles that you encounter. You practice love by caring for yourself and the world around you. You might connect to love by enjoying your body and other bodies. The source of life gave you a body and made it feel pleasant sensations on purpose so that you would enjoy having it. This is a gift for you to make your life enjoyable. When you enjoy your life and your self and when you join together in love with another person, you create and affirm the very love the universe is made of. Your love is beautiful, and it makes the world a better place. You have a limited time to spend walking upon this earth, and you should spend all the time you can living in a place of love and appreciation, and you should not spend any of your time living in fear and hate.