Posted by: Jim | August 6, 2013

Honor Codes for the Deconverted

I just finished reading “The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen” by Kwame Anthony Appiah, thinking I might gain insight into social change. The book did not disappoint, but deconverted Christians might find greater insights than the author intended.

The author very carefully shows the relationships between morality, honor, respect, and shame. He explains how honor codes are created within “honor societies” and how those structures are not necessarily linked with morality.

Many codes of honor happen to be moral. Telling the truth, being fair, being reasonable–these are typically present in many codes of honor and are also things that most people would agree are moral behaviors. Appiah, however, presents honor killings as an example of how honor codes can also be immoral. In some countries, if a woman is raped, she brings shame upon her family, and sometimes members of her family will kill the rape victim in order to restore the family’s honor.  Anyone not a member of that honor society would find this terribly immoral–but honor blinds people to their own shame, and they carry out these brutal murders on a regular basis.

As an ex-Christian, I easily grasped this, as I’ve come to understand how the “morality” of the Bible was really a justification of the honor code followed by the men who wrote it. That women must cover their heads in church, or that homosexuals will never taste of the Kingdom of God–these are plainly transparent attempts to “lay down the law” by men who feared the erosion of their honor code.

Not all honor is moral.

Christianity, regardless of what it calls itself, is an honor code and not a moral code. A moral code would be founded on moral principles that can consistently be found throughout the code. If not killing were a principle of a moral code, you would not find killing recommended as a solution to any problems within the code. Honor codes, on the other hand, do not need to be consistent. They are often contradictory or complex because they are not founded on principles; they’re designed to continue earning respect for certain “honor societies”or classes of people.

I could be debated on this point, but I believe there is a hierarchy among the faithful. There are new believers, moderate believers, seasoned Christians, church elders, leaders, celebrities, and a very few who are considered “kings,” like Rick Warren and Joel Osteen. The lowest caste within that honor code would be the apostate. So the person who is considering leaving his faith is considering something profoundly shameful within his honor code.

Honor codes are powerful enough to convince people to do far more damaging things than merely staying in a psychologically destructive faith. Aristocratic men in Victorian England used to duel to the death for the sake of honor. Chinese parents, who loved their daughters, used to force them to endure excruciating foot binding in order to preserve the honor of their family. So causing someone to endure cognitive dissonance or religious trauma is easily done by a powerful code of honor.

For those of us who still managed to escape, we then had to join a world we previously believed to be immoral, but were really just outside of our honor code. By applying these new terms to our thinking, we might make the deconversion process a little easier.

Posted by: Jim | June 21, 2013

Why We Fight

chambers About four years ago, I had to stop my ceaseless quarreling with religious forces in America. Not because I felt it wasn’t a worthy fight, but because it was taking a toll on me. I found myself tossing and turning at night, and felt my efforts were an exercise in futility. To quote my own blog post, “… I learned that many Christians do not think that intelligence is a virtue. They eschew logic as flawed. For them, science is suspect, and facts lead to deception. For them, the only way to find knowledge is to embrace ignorance. Their choice to remain blissfully attached to a cancerous, iron-age philosophy is not the result of a lack of intelligence, but merely a fearful abandonment of intellectual courage.”

While that statement is often true, it isn’t always. Enter Alan Chambers, stage left. He’s the guy who just shut down his “gay conversion” ministry Exodus International.

It’s quite possible that I’ve never seen this kind of courage in a faithful Christian during the course of my entire life. People who are bold enough to take a harsh stance against a minority of people are usually galvanized by their own hatred. They feed on the controversy. They successfully bifurcate their mind into two parts: the reasonable part that deals with most elements of day-to-day life, and the completely insane part where their irrational beliefs live. Normally, all they have to do to defeat detractors is to rely on the latter.

This is why I stopped arguing, but Alan Chambers has reminded me that people can be good, that they can listen to reason, and that they will sometimes do the right thing even at great risk to themselves. The reason Chambers was persuaded to shut down his ministry was because a lot of people hadn’t stopped arguing. He listened with his brain to scientific research, he listened with his heart to the impassioned pleas of those whom his ministry had hurt. He also embarked upon the rarest of all journeys: he examined his desire to be good, and measured that against the real and actual outcome of his actions, and found that he was failing. Then he decided to publicly apologize and change his actions.

Amazing. Amazingly good. His reasonable approach hasn’t led him to perfect alignment with my beliefs, but that’s okay. He is a hero in my book.

Thank you Mr. Chambers.

Posted by: Jim | May 28, 2013


Sunday I had the honor to be interviewed by Brian and Steve over at “A Matter of Doubt.” I found them via Matt over at Raging Rev, and sure enough it was a very enjoyable conversation.

Of course, afterward I got a major case of Treppenwitz, realizing some bone-headed things I said, and some things I should have said. But all in all it went very well. I got to talk about my deconversion experience and both my books.

Some corrections:

Yes, I actually said “Apologeticist.” Sheesh.

Secondly, I said that after my first deconversion I “pretended” to be a Christian for another 10 years, but I didn’t make clear that I was fooling myself with this pretense. I wasn’t consciously faking it.

Anyway, I hope you like it!

Posted by: Jim | November 15, 2012

For Want of the Price of Tea and a Slice

I’m a few days late for Veteran’s Day, when many people were thanking our vets. At it’s heart it’s entirely right to thank our vets; they do a tough job, and we need them. Their dedication to protect us civilians is commendable, but I always feel a tug of hesitation when it comes to pouring out my gratitude to them. The reason is that our gratitude should be matched by our efforts to protect them from harm until it’s absolutely necessary. I don’t think we’ve succeeded at our part, and that is what gives me pause. We shouldn’t only be thanking them; we should be apologizing to them.

We sent them to Afghanistan and Iraq. The war in Iraq won nothing for the US. The war in Afghanistan will also win us nothing. The Taliban will continue to hate us. Al Qaida will continue to plot. The myriad of other Anti-American organizations that have sprung up because of our adventures in the Middle East may, or may not, plot against us as well. So terrorism has certainly not been quashed, and the Taliban will stay out of power for only as long as our finger is in the dike. Guns and coercion can pretend to ideological aims, but they can never achieve them. Still we arm our children and send them over there assuming they are doing a noble job when they are actually doing an ignoble job nobly. It’s bad enough that we ask them to apply their blind loyalty to the whims of American hawks, but we make it worse by romanticizing their sacrifice. So I take a pass on thanking a vet without qualification, or on forwarding such messages through social media. Not because thanks isn’t deserved, but because attached to the thanks are some presumptions that are blatantly false.

Falsehood #1: Fallen soldiers are “heroes.” They might sometimes be, if they died to save a comrade or a civilian. But if he was driving down a road and an IED exploded and metal tore him to shreds, he’s not a hero, he’s just another victim. It’s meaningless violence committed against a soldier in a foreign land sent there for reasons that were long ago proven invalid. Am I to thank him for his sacrifice? No, because that presumes he was a sacrifice. A sacrifice implies that something has been gained.

I believe that if Americans examine their own motivations, we will admit that we call fallen soldiers “heroes” and overstate the nobility of the mission because it is too difficult to admit that one of our own died for frivolous reasons. We cannot bear the notion that an American son or daughter died because of a ruse we play with ourselves, so we dive headlong into the ruse, and threaten anyone who disagrees with us with a punch in the nose, or public disgrace and dishonor. The mechanism grows organically in a society. People throughout time have been taught, generation after generation, that it’s is an honor to go fight for your country. The meme goes as far back as ancient Greece, when Horace wrote “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,” which translates to “It is sweet and right to die for your fatherland.” “Pro patria mori” strikes a deep emotional chord with Americans, but also with the sons of Al Qaida chiefs so the sentiment does not set us apart. That deep emotion is not proof that our country is great. It does not justify sending our sons into a meaningless war.

Falsehood #2: The soldiers in Afghanistan are “fighting for our freedom.” That’s just not true, not even slightly. And given the enormity of the cost we pay for that statement, you’d think people would stop saying it. But they don’t. I hear it almost every day, and a hundred times on Veterans Day. Our freedoms are not intact because of the wars in the Middle East. If we called our soldiers back today, our freedoms would not be threatened in the least. Those who would seek to attack us in that event are already seeking to attack us now.

Let’s do the adult thing; let’s put the deaths of our servicemen into context. It’s an unpopular thing to do, but not doing so is foolish. We can attach a myriad of romantic, vainglorious attributes to a soldier’s death, but unless we examine it for what it is, we’re simply going to replicate what might be a terrible mistake. Did that young man or woman who died in Afghanistan really die for our freedom? If we had no soldiers in Afghanistan (or previously in Iraq), what freedom would have been sacrificed on the altar of pacifism? Eleven years after 9/11 we have not substantially eliminated the threat of terrorism in the United States. Indeed, more than one government group has stated that the threat of terrorism is more diverse and just as formidable today as it was in 2001. So what freedoms did that soldier die for? We have spent a trillion dollars and thousands of American lives for what? What has been gained? I am unable to account for a thing.

How powerful is this sentiment? In American politics, I suggest our adventures in the Middle East would have been over years ago if it had not been for the powerful lever of Pro patria mori that has been pulled by politicians who benefit by the war’s continuance. Pro patria mori. Our fatherland is so wonderful that we sent [checking today’s news] 26-year-old Matthew H. Stiltz to his death. Sgt. Stiltz would not have died if we had come to our senses years ago. But we didn’t. To vacate our mission in the middle east is to admit it was wrong to begin with. The parents of lost soldiers go bellicose at the thought, and insodoing pass their pain on to others.

There might be very practical reasons why the U.S. has a military presence in the Middle East. Those reasons probably have a lot more to do with the price of a gallon of gas, and a lot less to do with freedom. But those reasons don’t fit nicely into a sound bite, and aren’t as effective at recruiting the all-volunteer army we seem to need. (“Uncle Sam needs YOU to keep a gallon of gas under $5.) Moreover, there are probably ways to achieve the same goals that don’t involve blood. But, given the benefit achieved by a few industry warlords, and the political clout some politicians can gain by tickling American emotions, bloody conflict is the way we choose to meet those aims. And those scoundrels rely on the vast majority of us to stand and salute the honor of sending our sons and daughters to die for our freedom.

I’ll have no part of that lie.











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And get out there and vote!

Posted by: Jim | August 17, 2012

Curiosity photos

These pictures from Mars are causing a strange uneasiness in me. When I admire the shapes of the hilltops, carved by millions of years of indifferent winds, I realize that no human has ever admired those hills. A few hundred thousand years ago, the outline of their peaks looked much different. Their beauty was expressed in a different way, but no one ever saw them for all those epochs.

It dawned on me that I’ve been anthropomorphizing the mountains on earth. I perceive our mountains as big, slow-moving people who want nothing more than for the rest of us to look at them and admire the curve of their spine. People rarely do. But I do–all the time to be honest. I do it out of empathy for the mountains. I know what it’s like when people never notice your subtle differences—those things that make you entirely unique.

Perhaps another reason I admire the mountains is a throwback to my old religion. God placed the majestic mountains there to remind me how great he is. Right? Wrong. The mountains of Mars are no less majestic, and there is no one there to see.

But still, I look at the shape each mountain makes. I imagine how the rain falls and runs into its recesses, and forms rivulets and streams that run to the canyons below.  I admire the texture of flora that grows on its slopes. I also marvel at how after ten times the duration of my lifetime of howling winds and torrential rains, the subtle shapes formed by the mountain will be almost … exactly … the same.

This admiration of nature is my religion, in a way. After having eschewed a religion that proscribed more specific rites of veneration, I found myself unable and unwilling to do anything but stand before the almighty universe and open my mouth and feel amazed. The more I learned about science and my place in the universe, the easier this act of veneration became. It’s amazing  that the infinite expanse of hydrogen produced complex stars that produced planets, one of which produced life that became increasingly complex until it actually produced me. And, though temporary it may be, the fact that I’m able to stare back into the void and just say “Wow” is enough for me to find meaning in my own random existence. It transcends poetry. It transcends spirituality. It is nothing and it is everything, just for me to be alive and enjoy perceiving everything around me. It amazes me every day, and so this act has become my religion.

But those hills on Mars have never been beheld—until now. For millions of years, geologic forces have raised and lowered mountains without the slightest nod of approval. Even though I find such bliss in perceiving them, they never needed me, and I suspect they have never cared.

Maybe my unease is the knowledge that geologic time marches forward on Mars at the same rate that it does here on Earth. It’s humbling. No matter how good we get at finding meaning in our universe, the universe has ways of hiding it again.

Posted by: Jim | July 26, 2012

Marketing …

I’m learning how much I hate it. I’m not very good at it.

I’m sending out about 1 e-mail per day to various websites, reviewers, etc. Soon I will send out press kits to the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, P.Z. Myers, etc. In the meantime, both my books are languishing at the bottom of the sales ladder with no attention, and a total of one review between both books. But, I wrote the books for me, mostly, and my dastardly plan is still unfolding.

Aside from that I’m working on my next project. Something a little less controversial and a little more marketable.

Posted by: Jim | July 9, 2012

Zealot is now Available on Amazon

Both the E-book and paperback versions are up!

It’s almost three years exactly since I read the first page to my buddy Steve and my two kids at our campsite up in the mountains. Not a single word from that page made it into the final version, but the intent did. It took quite awhile for me to suss out what my intent was, but that’s all part of the process. I’ll now begin marketing in earnest.

In other news, “Songs of the Deconverted” is now in the bookstore at .


Since one of the stories will be appearing in “EFiction” starting this Sunday, I figured I should get this ready, so I did.

It’s up on Amazon, and now I’m focusing on the final proofread of “Zealot,” which should be available within a few weeks.

Any and all reviews are welcome!

I’ve just heard from their editors, the short story will appear in their next issue, which goes on sale (Kindle) July 1st.

This is great news! EFiction is one of the largest online magazines.

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