Monday, May 31, 2010

JTL Series: Revisiting Matthew, Chapter 8

Part 6 of my "Jesus the Letdown" series.
  • Verses 1 - 4: Jesus cures a man of leprosy. Just one man. Not the entire nation, no great big show, just touch the man and he's well. Further, Jesus explicitly instructs the man not to tell anyone. What the heck is that about? Why, after healing the man in front of a crowd of people, would Jesus want the man to keep the healing a secret? Also, why didn't Jesus ever say anything about bacteria and antibiotics? That's how we cure leprosy now. Maybe Jesus was administering antibiotics when he touched the man?
  • Verses 5 - 13: A Roman Centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant, who is sick at home. He is so convinced of Jesus' power that he grovels a bit, then says that Jesus can heal the servant just by giving word that the servant is healed, without the bother of going all the way to the Centurion's house. Jesus makes a mini-speech praising the Centurion's gullibility (faith), then finishes up by warning that Jews aren't shoo-ins for heaven. He's basically saying that you must have faith to get to heaven, not just be a Jew. Fair enough, but why will less gullible (faithful) Jews be "...thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth"? Can't God be more merciful?
  • Verses 21 - 22: a disciple asks Jesus for permission to bury his father. Jesus replies, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead." Now why would Jesus' mission, which would last another three years, be unable to allow this guy to go bury his father? Yet another inexplicable command from Jesus.
  • Verses 23 - 27: Jesus and pals are in a boat in a furious storm. Jesus is asleep. Not sure how one is to sleep during a furious storm, but anyway. Pals are all terrified that the storm will drown them, so they wake him up, apparently hoping that he can do something. Jesus' response? "Calm down guys, I'm God. I will not let anything happen to you." Not. Instead, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" I don't know, this doesn't seem like the most compassionate thing he could have said. I don't give my daughter a hard time when she's afraid of something that I know I can handle.
  • Verse 28 - 34: Jesus exorcises demons from a couple of men, sending the demons into a herd of pigs, resulting in the deaths of all the pigs. What about the owner of those pigs? What if those pigs were all he had? And how about the pigs dying, apparently by drowning? This is not a god of compassion and mercy. I can understand why the townspeople asked him to go away: they were afraid of losing their livelihood to this guy's antics.

JTL Series: Revisiting Matthew, Chapter 7

Part 5 of my "Jesus the Letdown" series.
  • Verses 1 - 2: Don't judge other people. Well, a nice sentiment, but look at the sanction: in the same way you judge others, you'll be judged yourself. So judging itself isn't immoral, it's just God's exclusive right. But what about, don't judge other people because we're all in this together. Why couldn't Jesus have focused on the compassionate aspect of not judging, rather than making it into a sinful act, deserving of punishment?
  • Verses 3 - 5: Don't be a hypocrite. Make sure that you see clearly before you tell someone else that he/she doesn't see clearly. Fair enough. But I'm convinced that if Jesus had focused more on compassion for others, he wouldn't have had to say so much about hypocrisy. He really was just working within the conceptual framework of the society at the time, not introducing some radical new way of thinking.
  • Verse 6: Don't throw your pearls to swine. Again, it's useful advice, if you accept the "us and them" mentality that Jesus so obviously accepts. I would have expected something new and unusual from the Son of God. Also, in order to determine whether I should get my pearls out, I must first judge whether the person to whom I'm showing them is a pig. In what sense are we not to judge, if we have permission to judge this person to be a pig on whom my pearls would be wasted?
  • Verses 7 - 11: Ask and it will be given to you? Bullshit. Seek and you will find? Bullshit. A man won't give a stone to his son who asks for bread, or a snake to his son who asks for a fish. God's way better than that; if we evildoers know how to give good gifts to our kids, then how much more will God give us good gifts when we ask. Bullshit.
  • Verse 12: Do unto others. The Golden Rule, embedded in all this crap. This is the best that the Son of God can do?
  • Verse 13 - 14: It's hard to do the right thing. Fair enough. But again, the terror of punishment follows: "...small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." So most of us are screwed.
  • Verses 15 - 20: Know them by their fruit. This is perhaps the best thing Jesus ever said. By the miserable fruit he provided us, namely all this very human wisdom with nothing really divine anywhere, we can see that he was just a man, assuming that he even existed. Also, given that his pronouncements are mostly garbage, we have to assume that he was very charismatic. Otherwise no one would have paid any attention to him.
  • Verses 21 - 23: You can't be saved just by saying, "Lord, Lord" to Jesus and performing miracles. Jesus wants you to be good as well. I think that a real God of love would save everyone, even the hypocrites and charlatans.
  • Verses 24 - 27: Do what Jesus says, and you will be like a wise man who built his house on a rock foundation rather than a sand foundation. We can barely figure out what he's telling us to do. And even when we can figure it out, most of it just sounds screwy.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

What do helicopters catching Skylab have to do with Arab-Israeli peace?

I was just beginning my teen years when Skylab fell on July 11, 1979. I remember people talking about whether it would cause damage on the ground, and how such damage could be prevented. One news clip on TV showed the ideas of an American classroom of little kids, perhaps preschool or kindergarten age: crayon drawings showing various ways of dealing with a falling space station. My favorite was a giant net stretched between two helicopters. The idea was for Skylab to fall safely into the net, allowing the helicopters to guide it gently to the ground.

I think that we could learn something from the exercise of those little kids: we need some brainstorming, some way of being really creative, generating ideas, with no risk of criticism. We need to get a whole mountain of ideas out onto the table, because somewhere in that mountain there will be at least a few ideas that could be helpful, if not in providing immediate solutions, at least providing some possible ways to move toward peace.

I have a very childish idea.

Years ago I read an article in a science magazine about game theory and how it could be used in simple, two-sided land disputes. The formula was simple: have one side of the negotiators propose the most fair division they can come up with, but let the other side be the first to choose which piece of the pie they will take. This is a beautifully simple plan. It forces the people doing the division into really thinking about what's fair, because they know that they'll get the second choice.

I propose this not even as a final solution, but just as a brainstorming mechanism: create a website that allows everyone, everywhere to propose their best ideas on how to divide Palestine between Jews and Arabs, with the knowledge that each proposal gives first choice to the other side. So an Israeli would propose a division of Palestine that allows the Arabs to choose their half first. Let this website get filled up with hundreds or even thousands of proposals. The two sides of the conflict can sit at home, not having to worry about the pressures of negotiations, and quietly reflect on these proposals. Surely there will be a few, or at least one, that is thought to be a good idea by both camps. Maybe there could even be a voting mechanism, so the two camps of negotiators and leaders can see the popularity of the proposals, in case they want to listen to the voice of the people.

I think that we can find a solution to this problem. Maybe I'm just the kid drawing helicopters catching Skylab, but even if it's a naive or even stupid idea, maybe someone smart will read it and be inspired to come up with a good idea.

Friday, May 28, 2010

JTL Series: Revisiting the four resurrection stories

Part 4 of my "Jesus the Letdown" Series.

The four resurrection stories conflict in ways that matter:

Matthew 28: Two Marys go to the tomb. A violent earthquake occurs as an angel of the Lord comes down, rolls back the stone covering the entrance to the tomb, and sits on the stone. "His appearance was like lightning," and his clothes were white. The guards, who had been posted to prevent Jesus' disciples faking a resurrection, shake and become "like dead men". The angel says to the two women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified..."

Mark 16: Two Marys and Salome go to the tomb, finding the stone already rolled out of the way. No mention of earthquake or angel or guards. Inside the tomb, no Jesus, but a man sitting "on the right side" wearing white robes. No mention of his lightning-like appearance. The young man says, "Don't be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified..."

Luke 24: "The women" (apparently two Marys and a Joanna) go to the tomb, finding the stone already rolled out of the way. No earthquake, angel, or guards. Inside the tomb, no Jesus, but suddenly two men in lightning clothes are standing beside them. The men say, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen..."

John 20: Mary goes to the tomb, no mention of any other women. She finds the stone "removed from the entrance". No mention of her entering the tomb. She runs to Peter and "the other disciple, the one Jesus loved," and tells them that there's no Jesus. Simon Peter and the other disciple run to the tomb and enter it, observing burial paraphernalia with no corpse attached. These two disciples go back home, leaving Mary apparently still alone. She looks inside the tomb once more and sees "two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.' They ask, "Woman, why are you crying?" Suddenly Jesus is there; she turns around and sees him, but does not recognize him. He also asks, "Woman, why are you crying?"

  • All four differ on which woman/women went to the tomb.
  • One account mentions an earthquake and an angel rolling the stone back; the other three mention no earthquake and say that the stone was already away from the entrance when the women got there.
  • One account mentions Roman guards who apparently passed out at the sight of the angel; the other three mention no guards.
  • Two accounts mention only one heavenly being; two accounts mention two heavenly beings; one account mentions two heavenly beings preceding the appearance of the risen Jesus himself.
  • One account mentions Jesus' physical presence at the tomb and his conversation with one of the women while apparently still at the tomb; the other three have the heavenly beings explicitly announcing, "He is not here."
  • Two accounts have the women being instructed to go tell the disciples that Jesus is risen, and that they are to meet him in Galilee; one account has the women receiving a short sermon but no instructions; one account has Mary receiving instructions from Jesus himself, but only to deliver a cryptic message to the disciples and nothing about Galilee.
  • Three accounts have the women returning to the disciples with the Good News; one has the women saying "nothing to anyone, because they were afraid"
  • One account has Jesus appearing to the women after they had "hurried away from the tomb"; one has no Jesus appearing at all (my NIV tells me that Mark 16:9-20 is absent from the most reliable manuscripts); one has no Jesus appearing to anyone until later that day; one has a woman at the tomb, who "turned around and saw Jesus standing there".

Monday, May 24, 2010

JTL Series: Revisiting Matthew, Chapter 6

Part 3 of my "Jesus the Letdown" series
  • Verses 1 - 4: Don't make a big, ostentatious show of your charity. Really? Why not? Conspicuous giving would encourage others to be charitable as well. Charity for the wrong reasons is still charity. What matters more: the alleviation of suffering or observing the proper secrecy in charitable acts? Plus, see the sanctions Jesus imposes on those who make a big show? Verse 1: will have no reward from your Father in heaven. Verse 6: Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. How about the internal reward of knowing that you've done something good? Jesus' version of Christianity sounds a lot like Islam to me, with this idea that in heaven you'll receive a reward for your righteous acts.
  • Verse 5: And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites...remember the criticism against many atheists these days, such as Richard Dawkins: people want to know why they won't debate religious people. The reason is that debating them gives them a forum, dignifying their position. Jesus dignifies the hypocrites by mentioning them. Who gives a shit about the hypocrites? Where is the social reform? Where are mercy and kindness? Who is this guy?
  • Verses 8 - 13: ...your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray: ...lead us not into temptation...So, he knows what we need already, so much so that there is no need to remind him of our crop failure and epidemics, but still we have to remind him not to lead us into temptation?
  • Verses 14 - 15: Forgive, or God will not forgive you. What? The fact that I don't want to be friendly with the people who mistreated me as a child means that I have to burn in hell forever?
  • Verses 16 - 18: More of this reward bullshit. Fast secretly, so God will reward you. Ick!
  • Verses 19 - 21: Don't store up treasures...if he'd stopped there, it would have been good advice about not being too materialistic. But instead, he has to add, ...on earth...but store up for yourself treasures in heaven. Sounds an awful lot like telling people not to invest much in this life, but instead to invest in the next life. Even if there is a next life, it seems better to invest as much as possible in the alleviation of suffering in this life.
  • Verses 22 - 23: The eye is the lamp of the body...huh? Is Jesus trying to talk about some connection between one's eyes and one's morality? Sounds like nonsense.
  • Verse 24: You cannot serve both God and Money. The fact that this God doesn't seem worthy of my attention makes this a sort of nonsense statement. But even if we wanted to say "progressive social policy" instead of "God", it would be a false statement. Lots of rich people are philanthropists.
  • Verses 25 - 34: Don't worry, God will take care of you. Bullshit. There are so many people in the world being very badly cared for, and there always have been.

JTL Series: Revisiting Matthew, Chapter 5

Part 2 of my "Jesus the Letdown" series
  • Verses 3 - 5: Jesus blesses the poor in spirit, those who mourn, and the meek. What is wrong with this guy? His first public pronouncements endorse poverty and victimhood. Why does the Son of the Supreme Being introduce himself to humanity by admitting defeat at the hands of human nature? Why can't he say something like, "Mourning might be necessary, but poverty and slavery don't have to happen, and here's a new way to think that will eliminate them both"?
  • Verse 6: Jesus blesses "those who hunger and thirst for righteousness". I don't know, it's one thing to hunger and thirst for social justice, but another thing entirely to hunger and thirst for something stupid, like sexual virtue. Seems like he could have been clearer on this one.
  • Verse 7: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Yay! After 96 verses, the Son of God finally says something meaningful.
  • Verse 8: Blessed are the "pure in heart"? What the heck does that mean?
  • Verse 9: Blessed are the peacemakers...ok, now we're on a roll, two good ones in rapid succession.
  • Verse 10: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness...this one is pretty good if you accept that the world has to have persecutors of righteousness in it. It still seems to me that the Son of God should have brought us some new way of thinking that would eliminate or at least reduce persecution in the world.
  • Verses 11 - 12: A blessing on all who are ever persecuted because of Jesus. This is just a little too much "us and them" for me. Why wouldn't Jesus have introduced a way for people to get along, rather than inviting people with a persecution complex to become the public face of Christianity?
  • Verse 13: You are the salt of the earth...this just sounds like empty nonsense to me.
  • Verse 14: You are the light of the world...let your light shine before men, that they may see your good much for the idea of doing good deeds in secret, not letting your right hand know what the left is doing (Chapter 6 verses 1 - 4). One might think that the Son of God would be a little more clear.
  • Verse 20: For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Wow, does that ever bring back memories. When I first read this, verse, I was unaware that we had historical and archaeological accounts of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. I assumed that no one knew anything any more about these people. Now it occurs to me that the whole idea sounds wrong: it's a stereotype. In every group of people I've ever observed, there are cool people and there are jerks. Stereotyping an entire group is really simple-minded, not the sort of thing I'd expect from the Son of God.
  • Verses 21 - 22: Busted for being angry, in danger of hell for being contemptuous? Why can't the Son of God teach that anger can be healthy? And if contempt is such a terrible thing, how about some tips for the victim, on how to get over it?
  • Verses 23 - 24: Be at peace with your brother before you offer a gift at the altar. A nice sentiment. That's three worthy pronouncements so far.
  • Verses 25 - 26: Prefer to settle matters out of court; you might end up in jail yourself. Ok, that's four. Still, these four gems of wisdom are nothing that couldn't have been said by the simplest bumpkin from Galilee.
  • Verses 27 - 28: Lusting in one's heart is the same sin as adultery. Yikes. Thought crime. I would expect more from an omnipotent being.
  • Verses 29 - 30: Gouge out sinful eyes and cut off sinful hands. Brutal, even if it's supposed to be metaphorical, which isn't clear at all.
  • Verses 31 - 32: I can make my wife a sinner by divorcing her? This makes no sense at all.
  • Verses 33 - 37: Don't make oaths; just say "yes" or "no". Hmm, maybe there's some historical context that I'm missing here. This just doesn't sound like the earth-shattering sort of thing one might expect from the Son of God.
  • Verses 38 - 42: Don't resist evil, turn the other cheek, give more than you're sued for, go further than you're forced to, give and lend generously. Meh, nice enough sentiments, but really a bit ambiguous and not terribly useful advice.
  • Verses 43 - 48: Love your enemies, not just those who love you. It could have been that he meant something like, "Have compassion for everyone so you won't hate anyone." But if he meant that, why didn't he say it? As stated, he's allowing us to consider people enemies as long as we "love" them. I don't know, I just would have expected something a bit richer from the Son of God.

Jesus the Letdown: Revisiting Matthew, Chapters 1 - 2

The book of Matthew was my first serious attempt at reading the bible. This was my response to receiving the hideous news that the hell waiting for me was eternal torment, rather than the orphanage–like conditions I had always imagined as a little kid. I've recounted my experience of reading Matthew for the first time in a different post. Now it seems time to revisit the book and see what it means to me now.

Chapter I:
  • Verses 1 - 17: a waste of time: a genealogy purportedly linking Jesus back to Adam via the line of King David and the Patriarch Abraham.
  • Verse 25: But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. A clumsy attempt to underscore Jesus' paternity--if Joseph hadn't refrained from having "union" with Mary, it might have been suggested that Jesus was simply Joseph's son.
Chapter II:
  • Verses 13 - 23: an "angel of the Lord" gives Joseph a message in a dream: go to Egypt and wait for Herod to die, as Herod is having infants killed to avoid having his throne usurped. Then, an "angel of the Lord" appears again, telling Joseph to go back to Israel. Joseph packs up the family and goes back, but finds that Archaleus is now in power, and Joseph is afraid to return to Jesus' birthplace. Fortunately, Joseph has yet another dream, the details of which are not specified, but which provides him some kind of warning. Why couldn't this all have happened in a single dream? "Joseph, go to Egypt until Herod dies, then go to Nazareth." Would that have been so hard? I could even understand two dreams: one to warn him to go to Egypt and one to tell him to come back. What I can't understand is why a third dream would have been required. Why couldn't the Supreme Being of All Things have told Joseph in the second dream (or the first!) that he should go to Nazareth instead of back to Judea?
  • Note especially verse 16, where Herod has all the boys under two years old in the Bethlehem area slaughtered. No help from God? No tip-off to someone to smuggle their children to safety? The more I think of it, the uglier it seems. If you knew that someone was coming to kill the children in your town, would you sneak out without telling anyone?
  • Note especially verses 6, 15, 23: the author works awfully hard to emphasize that Jesus is the fulfillment of many Old Testament prefigurations of Jesus. These are, respectively:
    • The Messiah will come from Bethlehem
    • "Out of Egypt I have called my son" -- a reference to the Hebrew exodus from Egypt (which probably never happened)?
    • "He will be called a Nazarene."
    Seems like an awful lot of contrivance to squeeze Jesus into old prophecies. Also note that no one has ever found any prophet claiming that the Messiah would be "called a Nazarene." I find a typical defense of this obvious error to be a typical Christian tactic: when it makes God look good, God inspired it, and when it makes God look bad, fallible humans are to blame.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

This place is far scarier than I thought

I've been watching a lot of nature and science documentaries lately, being reminded forcibly of all those little-kid wonders about life: how huge the universe is, how huge the Earth is, how huge even a foothill is compared to a human, what an incomprehensibly bizarre phenomenon organic life is, yet how amazingly obvious—even inevitable—it seems. I've also been thinking a lot about how life, for most life forms, ends really quite badly: either you starve, or you die of disease, or you're eaten alive, mercilessly, pitilessly, torn apart by horrible teeth. That thought started to ferment a lot when I heard someone in one of these documentaries say something like

Right now, across Africa, thousands of wildebeest are dying a terrible, cruel death in the jaws of predators.

No way. Thousands? I know that the herds number in the millions, but come on, how many predators are there? I checked it out: tens of thousands of lions live in Africa now, and it is estimated that well into the hundreds of thousands lived there just 50 years ago. If I just think about a hundred thousand lions, then all the other predators that live nearby: hyenas, cheetahs, crocodiles, hunting dogs, birds of prey, I am overwhelmed by the sheer numbers. There are millions upon millions of animals in the world right now, every one of them doomed to die horribly. Scale that up by thinking back, how many breeding seasons would that be for most mammals? That many years. Mammals took over from the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Dinosaurs occupied all the ecological niches now held by mammals, and they lasted 130 million years. Archosaurs were there for 130 million years before the dinosaurs. Jesus. Just counting land and sky animals big enough for us to care about, it's painful to contemplate.

If I could train a thousand squirrels to lie nose-to-tail in a long line, I could walk from one end of that line to the other in about three minutes and 47 seconds. If I could train a million, the walk would take a bit longer: 63 hours seven minutes. In other words, almost three solid days, day-and-night walking, no stopping. Land and sky animals big enough for me to notice that they can suffer have been around for over 300 million years. That's two full years and two months of walking, non-stop. Every one of those squirrels you just walked by died in pain and suffering. But that's nothing. For every single one of them, there are millions upon millions of other creatures living at the same time, dying just as cruelly. Oof. Human suffering, the really nasty stuff we experience at each others' hands, is literally brand-new.

I've heard people complain that there's too much suffering in the world, but I think that perhaps I've never really thought about the suffering, never really tried to grasp how much there really is. There's an awful lot. I can see vividly now why people would say that all the suffering in the world proves that there is no god. I can see that anyone claiming to be in charge would have a lot of explaining to do.

I think I just took another big step toward being an atheist. Yahweh just now appeared to me in a vision as a wizened old dude herding camels in the desert and trying to impress his buddies around the campfire.

Flying Airplanes, Epilogue

My therapist said something during our last session that got my attention. She said that I must have really struggled in my day-to-day life as a nine-year-old kid after they started molesting me. She gave examples like what I might have thought to myself about carrying a big secret around. She depicts me thinking to myself something like, "What would my friends think if I told them that I'd had sex with my mother?" That seems really strange to me: I don't recall ever thinking about it when it wasn't actually happening. I don't think that I ever sat and rehearsed any of these things to myself until years later, when I mysteriously began to get an inkling that something had gone badly in my childhood. I don't think that it would have ever occurred to me to wonder what my friends would think.

I'm not even certain how I got to a place where I realized that it was wrong. To tell the truth, until just recently, I didn't really have a good handle on why it's best for young teenagers to wait until they're older to have sex. I had asked two therapists years earlier why it's wrong for adults to have sex with their children, and got really murky, unsatisfactory answers about cultural norms and kids being exposed to physical danger.

Now I'm really wondering how I ever discovered that it's wrong to have sex with one's children. I remember at about age 20 making an angry remark to Lori, sarcastically saying that I was going to have sex with her young daughter Tanja. I knew then that I had no such intention and was just making the remark to goad her. But now that I think more about it, maybe it was dawning on me that although I knew that it would be wrong for me to do it, it somehow wasn't wrong when Edd and my mother did it to me. Maybe that angry-young-man phase that I went through was fueled by this realization that I am somehow compelled to follow the rules, but no one else is. "No one else is" is of course my childish interpretation of seeing Edd and my mother break all the rules without ever getting into any kind of trouble.

I definitely have had a huge button all my life about people not seeming to follow the same rules that I do, as though one set of rules is imposed on me, but a much more lenient set of rules (or maybe an empty set) applies to everyone else, especially concerning how everyone else is supposed to treat me in particular. Maybe I've never realized that it's wrong to molest children. Maybe all I've ever realized is that it's inconsistent for my parents to do it while they held me to some moral standard. Not necessarily a standard concerning sexual behavior, but I sure got beaten for various infractions. Maybe at some very deep, childish level I'm just angry that I got all those beatings while Edd and my mother behave in a most depraved fashion and never even got their wrists slapped.

Why don't I remember what I thought during my day-to-day life relative to these sex sessions? Did I carry it around? Block it out? Act strangely? I do recall being called into the school library by the guidance counselor, it must have been third grade or so. But nothing ever came of that; somehow I must have convinced him that I had a normal life. There have been times in my life when I felt that I might burst with a secret, but I don't remember ever feeling like I had some secret to tell anyone or to hide from anyone. Once when I was maybe 13, my friends and I were sitting around talking about sex the way young boys will, and someone wondered aloud what it's like to have sex, or something like that. I mentioned that I had had sex before, and everyone wanted to know with whom. I didn't want to say, "My mother." I wanted to say, "A girl named Donna." My best interpretation, 30 years later, is that I knew then that it would be weird to tell them that I'd had sex with my sister, or with my mother. I must have sensed already that it wasn't cool, even if I didn't sense that there was a moral dimension to the lack of coolness about it.

It has occurred to me at times to think that perhaps I don't know anything about right and wrong. Perhaps all I know is whether something bad will happen when I do this or that. I would not be surprised if this is how my mind works. In fact, I think that I have scolded myself and loathed myself at times for being this way, for being so shallow that I don't really care about what's right, but instead care only about what will get me into trouble or not.

Flying Airplanes, Part II

Why am I doing this? Because my therapist asked me in our last session to give her an idea of how many times my parents molested me. While I sat there recounting the instances, I couldn't look her in the eye, but in my peripheral vision I could see her wincing and reacting. I attenuated the details a bit, but now I'm thinking that maybe I need to dig into them, look at them closely. Or maybe I'm just passing time again. I don't know.

So other instances. I don't clearly recall two separate hotel visits; I'm relying on other memories, memories of narratives that have been sitting in my mind for almost 30 years. I've told myself all this time that there were two hotel visits. My guess is that there really were two visits, and I remembered them clearly at some point, established the narrative in my memory, then forgot the details. I assume, for the time being, that my memory is at least mostly reliable concerning the broad brushstrokes, that I'm not fabricating anything significant.

I'm sitting on the edge of her bed in the late afternoon. I'm wearing just a swimsuit, just some form-fitting nylon/lycra shorts. I was on a swim team for a while, and I seem to recall running around in a swimsuit not being too unusual. She's sitting next to me, on the right. He's sitting next to her, on her right. I lie back and stretch. While I do this, she reaches over with her left hand, and using her fingernails, stimulates my penis with a light scratching motion. It feels really good, but the pleasure seems to be an integral part of the fact that I'm stretching. I still don't make any connection between this pleasure and sexual pleasure; it doesn't register on my radar that the pleasure is coming from my penis. My best recollection is that it was just an intensely good stretch. This seems a bit strange to me, as I am reminded that I never really noticed how good it feels to stretch until I was in my early 20's, when my girlfriend Rhonda, lying in bed one morning, wondered aloud why it feels so good to stretch.

Next, on a different day, they're watching and instructing me while I attempt to have sex with Donna, my oldest sister. If I were nine at the time, she would have been 16. I don't actually remember fucking her. I remember something going on, but I don't have any details except the memory of her saying, "He's so little!" When they had me fuck my mother, my nine-year-old body didn't fit her adult body very well, so we had to put pillows under her butt so I could reach her properly. Presumably the same problem occurred with Donna, but I guess we didn't try the pillows option. My next memory is apparently from the same day: I'm in my bedroom with Donna. No visual memories here; it might be that it was nighttime and the lights were turned off; I have a sense of complete blackness, rather than just a lack of memory. I can feel Donna grasping my erect penis and saying, "Wow, you're hard," or something very much to that effect. That's all I remember. It's almost as though I fell asleep immediately. I wonder what really happened. I wish I could remember.

On a different day, Becky, Lori, and I are under the covers with her. She's naked, we're fondling her naked body at will while Edd sits nearby. He couldn't have actually been watching us, as we were under the covers. Or at least that's how I remember it. The only other real memory I have is of being angry that Becky and Lori were there, and at one point finding myself going after the same part of my mother's body as Lori was going after, and feeling angry toward her for disrupting whatever it was I was trying to do.

One night while they were alone in her locked room as usual, they called me in. I don't recall feeling like I was getting some great treat, but I think I must have felt that way. It definitely was a treat to be allowed into her room, to get her attention. He had me put my fingers into her pussy. She was doing Kegel flexes. He said something like, "Think how good that would feel to your dick." I still didn't know what he was talking about; sexual pleasure was a few years into the future for me. Possibly at the same time, or possibly on another night, I don't remember, he instructed me on how to lick my mother's pussy. He showed me her clitoris, but I didn't recognize it; it was decades later that I finally recognized a clitoris. He instructed me to "eat" her pussy like I would eat an orange. I took my best guess and ate my mother's pussy like an orange. As usual, he checked in with her level of pleasure while I did it.

He spent the night quite often, or at least I think he did. Now my memory isn't so clear, but he at least spent the weekend nights. One weekend night he had to go out of town or something, but he gave me instructions ahead of time. Sleep with my mother, have sex with her. I tried to: we were lying there in her bed in the dark. She was lying on her right side, facing away from me. I reached over and grabbed her left breast, and she said angrily, "Robbie, you're tickling me." I stopped what I was doing immediately--I don't recall clearly, but I think that I was extremely ashamed--but I have no memory of what happened after that. I must have gone to sleep. I don't really remember the feelings that I had at the moment, but when I feel terrible, overwhelming rejection like I did when my girlfriend broke up with me, I think that it must be similar to the way I felt that night.

I think that my mother really set me up that night. Obviously she didn't know that she was setting me up; she is a selfish idiot, but I don't think that she had it in mind to destroy me deliberately. But up until that time the only love I'd ever received from her was during these sexual molestation sessions. I think that I must have associated her approval with the sexual behavior I was enacting. I can see it very clearly now that in my adult relationships, I try to get approval from my partner primarily through sex, especially good sex, well-performed, skilled sex. When she rejected me like that, saying that I was tickling her, she probably cemented the idea that approval comes from good sex and disapproval comes from bad sex.

Strange: I hate being tickled, and I hate tickling people. This is noteworthy, because my daughter loves to be tickled and often asks me to tickle her. I've never asked myself whether my reluctance to tickle her is in some way related to my mother being angry that I was tickling her. I'll have to think about that one.

Flying Airplanes, Part I

The first memory I have of it all is an auditory memory, or maybe not even that much, maybe just the words: flying airplanes. I always have this difficulty with my memories: if I try to pin them down so I can closely examine them, they sort of dissolve. I have to sit and wait for them to float back into my peripheral vision and promise not to stare. Something about how the three of us would go flying in Edd's small Cessna in the near future. I don't even have an actual memory about it, just the words, flying airplanes, sitting there in my mind like the label on a tacky birthday gift.

I've been telling myself for years that I was ten years old when this happened. I don't recall now which signposts I used in forming this belief, but now the belief is all I have. I could have been a year younger or older. In fact, now that I think of it, I'm pretty sure that I turned ten in 5th grade, and because I would have been nine at the beginning of the school year, I must have been nine when they first began to molest me, because it happened some time before 5th grade.

The next memory I have is an image: he, in the driver's seat, presumably of his blue-and-silver, mid-70's model Chevrolet El Camino. My mother sits to his right. I sense her, but I don't really have a visual memory of her. The thing that I have in place of a visual memory surely is a later fabrication: her sitting there, silent, hands in her lap, head down, in shame. I don't believe that to be a true memory, although it would have been appropriate. He said these words, although I won't impose any order on them: "I'm gonna let you other man". Without making any promises about which parts are real and which parts are fabrications, I'll translate this in the way that I always have: "I'm gonna let you do things with your mother that I would never let any other man do." That's the meaning of the thing that I remember, if not the exact words. The only other memory I have of that scene is the sense that we were out on a freeway, with afternoon rush-hour traffic, while he said this to me. I have no memory of whether I realized that we weren't going to fly after all, or whether I was disappointed about this fact.

The next thing I remember is driving into a hotel parking lot, but maybe that's not a real memory. That could be something I've filled in over the years. The rest of the memories come in no particular order. My mother and I are naked. She's lying on her back on the bed, and he has been instructing me on how to suck my mother's nipple. While I do it, he tells me to open my mouth a little wider, to cover her entire areola. He asks her throughout the night whether my actions feel good to her; she always responds positively. He has me finger her, pointing out that I should always use my middle finger, "because it's the longest." He reminds me to make sure that it feels good to her by asking her periodically.

Then they have me fuck her. This part is strange on several levels. First, at this time of my life I have no sense of sexual pleasure whatsoever. I don't think I was even aware of the pleasure of urinating--that had to be pointed out to me decades later. However, I did get sporadic erections. Usually when I had to pee, but sometimes just being naked could make it happen. I never experienced any pleasure from them. So I did have an erection when they had me fuck her, so I really did fuck her. My penis was so small, and my body was so small, that it didn't work at first: they had to put a couple of pillows under her butt so I could reach her better. I don't remember the specific act of fucking her. I mean, I don't recall the experience as I would recall having sex with someone now, as an adult. I recall it being more like lying on top of her and feeling very close to her.

I say, "'Feeling very close to her" rather guardedly. I've told myself for years that being molested by my mother was a happy experience at the time, because I felt loved by her for the first time in my life. That's definitely an embellishment of my actual memories. If I sit here and think about it, really try to remember, I do get a physical reaction, which is really rare for me, so I will assume for now that it's a legitimate memory. I remember this terrible ache from when I was little. I felt it often around my older sisters' girlfriends. I somehow associate that ache with the feeling I had when I was fucking my mother. Like the two are inversely related, that sex made the ache go away. But no, that's not a real memory, the part about the ache going away. More like the ache appeared in my life after they started molesting me. That seems plausible, that after finding sex to be the only route to genuine affection, I would start to ache around any older female.

That's all I remember from the first hotel session. I have a few flashes from a second session: me, being eager to get started, saying that the room is really warm and taking my clothes off, watching her suck his dick, hearing her say, in a cheesy, pornographic ecstasy, "I'm a fucking machine!"being surprised at the goo on my fingers when I went to the bathroom after having fingered her for a while. Now that I think of it, I wonder what that was. I remember it as being brown. Blood? No, couldn't be--I would have recognized blood, if not on my fingers then surely everywhere else. I know what it's like to have sex with a menstruating woman. I have no memory of any such messiness. I have only two other certain memories: lighting their cigarettes for them, which now I'm looking at closely to see just how appalling that is, and going to the hotel's internal restaurant to get a grilled cheese sandwich for myself. I think that the whole experience seemed like a special treat for me, getting this special, private interaction with my parents and being allowed to do special things (like smoking and getting a treat from a restaurant).

This is just the beginning. I'm going to post it and see how I feel about having such atrocities about myself available to the public, while I work on Part II.