Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Premarital Sex: Risk vs. Reward

Last month, I wrote that I support responsible and safe unmarried teen sex. Of course my Orthodox readers responded negatively, with various reasons, but one argument jumped out over and over again: it's just too risky. And there are serious risks, of course, ranging from simple hurt feelings to unwanted pregnancies to STDs.

But what about the benefits? It should be obvious to everyone that many or most teens desperately crave sex. And it's not just a fantasy that can't be matched by reality -- teenagers who have sex rarely decide that they don't like it and it's not for them. Sex is actually a really enjoyable thing, especially when you're an adolescent. I mean, duh, right? But religious people never talk about that side of the equation.

Part of the problem is that they're usually talking about other people. It's easy to declare something not worth the risk when you don't get to enjoy the rewards. People who love smokers generally want them to quit more than the smokers themselves do -- smoker-lovers have to live with the risk of their loved one's illness and death but they don't get any enjoyment the smoker gets from puffing on his cancer sticks.

The same thing is true with teen sex. If you have a sexually active teenager, you're not going to get much pleasure out of that idea unless you're unusually capable of enjoying another person's happiness even when it grosses you out. But you do feel every risk as acutely or more acutely than your teen does. Chances are that you'll be approximately as upset as she is if she gets pregnant or contracts an STD, but only she will get to enjoy the sex. So to you, the proposition is all risk, zero reward. The choice is clear.

But what about your daughter? Do you really have the right to make that choice for her? Well, yes, of course you do if she's young enough to not understand or appreciate the risks involved. Teens really are more impulsive than adults, and they have a tendency to underestimate risks. But doesn't there come a point where they get old enough and rational enough that you've got to let them make that choice for themselves?

It's not like there's a right answer and a wrong answer. Is driving a car to your friend's house in the next town worth the slight risk of death and dismemberment that accompanies driving on the highway? Is eating a charred hamburger worth the risk of cancer? Should we abstain from dessert because who can eat just one cookie? We make decisions like these every day, and there are no right answers. Some questions (Is the potential reward of injecting heroin of unknown purity worth the risk?) seem easier than others, but all ultimately come down to personal preferences.

Some neurotics refuse to shake hands because they're scared of germs and some rock stars plan to party hard and die young. I'd probably prefer my kid be the neurotic than the rock star, but should that really be my choice? Ultimately it's his life and his body. All I can do is make sure he really understands the rewards and the risks and hope he makes a decision that I'm happy with. But why should my desire to have grandchildren trump his desire to have as much sex and drugs possible even if it kills him?

So back to teen sex. (Come on, Google hits!) Is there any pleasure in life comparable to having sex as an adolescent? I'm thinking no. I'm sure religious people and others will say that getting married or having a child is somehow more enjoyable, and I'm positive that someone somewhere has argued that learning Talmud is better, but overall, it's got to be one of life's chief pleasures.

And it's not just a shallow pleasure, although it is that as well. Sex (I'm using the term broadly -- i.e., in the non-Clintonian sense -- now) plays an integral role in relationships that boys and girls start having in their teens. Orthodox Jews would have you believe that relationships that don't lead to marriage are worthless at best and downright harmful at worst. I don't think that's true. While some relationships are harmful (just as some marriages are) one of life's more sublime pleasures is having intimate relationships with other human beings.

So what if puppy love tends not to last? Am I somehow worse off for having had a few relationships before I met my fiancee? I don't think so. And what if it'd turned out that a high-school relationship blossomed into a life-long marriage? Who would be better off if I'd avoided entering into it because my parents were scared that dating leads to sex and sex leads to babies?

So let's stop looking at just one side of the equation. Obviously if we were talking about a pill that produced no benefit of any kind but carried a tiny risk of pregnancy and/or STDs, nobody should take that pill. But we're talking about sex. Sex is really, really fun. And it's the glue in a lot of meaningful relationships. So you've got to balance that against the risk. And it's really not fair to make that decision for someone else when you stand to get hurt by the risks but share no part in the rewards. That's just selfishness masquerading as concern.

Previously: Memories of an Orthodox High School Romance.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Atheist Advertising Coming to Washington D.C.

Taking Atheism for a Ride Around Town
If you sometimes find yourself praying for a seat on a crowded Metrobus, some atheists have a message for you: Don't bother.

They would say that, wouldn't they? Prayer's not their thing. And starting Tuesday they'll be bringing their unique brand of holiday message to area commuters. Advertisements will begin popping up on Metrobuses in the District that read: "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake."

At a news conference at the National Press Club yesterday, members of the American Humanist Association -- one of the country's leading atheist and agnostic organizations -- explained what they're up to.

"Our message is that all of us can have moral values as a natural result of who we are as a species and who we have become as a civilization," said Fred Edwords, the association's director of communications. "Each one of us knows what it means, generally, to be ethical."

And apparently I missed this story:
Jan Meshon was at the news conference. He helped organize the placement of billboards on Interstate 95 and the New Jersey Turnpike that read: "Don't believe in God? You're not alone."

Sunday, November 09, 2008

How Religion Causes Good Men To Do Evil: Gay Marriage Edition

There's been a lot of talk about how African-Americans disproportionately voted against gay marriage in California while simultaneously voting for Barack Obama. It's true that they did vote against it disproportionately -- 70% to 30% -- but focusing on race misses the point. The driving factor, of course, is religion. African-Americans just happen to be more religious than whites.

84% to 16%. Wow. That beats even the "White Republicans" demographic, which went for prop 8 by 82%-18%.

Previously: How Religion Causes Good Men To Do Evil, Parts One and Two. Mormons Dominating the Fight Against Gay Marriage.

Friday, November 07, 2008


I've only read chapter 1 of 7 so far, but this story about the campaign looks pretty interesting.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama, the Jews, and Israel, Part II

Sometimes it's just funny how far removed from reality the Republican talking points are. As you may recall, Republicans have been trying to push the message that Obama is bad for Israel and has a long, scary pattern of associating with anti-semites.

Today he chose Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff. Emanuel is an Orthodox Jew. His father is Israeli. During the first Gulf War, Emanuel was a civilian volunteer in Israel, rust-proofing brakes on an army base in the north. He supported this Bush's Iraq war, too.

What an Israel-hating anti-semite that Obama is.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Emotions of Today

I'm excited and giddy. I was proud to vote for Obama. I'm glad to be part of history.

It's not just about the first black president, although that's a huge milestone. It's about the conquest of hope over fear. I realize that sounds trite, that to Republican ears, it's just propaganda. But it's true. We're kicking out the man who ran as a uniter but acted as a divider, a man who seized the moment of unity after 9/11 to push for a war that was unnecessary and counterproductive.

We're kicking out the "if you're not with us, you're against us" guy and voting against the candidate who believes that there are "pro-America" parts of America and presumably "anti-America" parts of America. We're rejecting the team that divides America into "real" (i.e. Republican) and "fake" parts.

We're ridding government of people who think government cannot be effective and do their best to fulfill that prophecy. We're getting rid of an administration and a party that thinks talking to the enemy is a sign of weakness and that derides domestic opposition as traitorous and sympathetic to terrorists. We're getting rid of an administration that thinks habeas corpus and the Geneva Conventions are inconveniences. We're getting rid of an administration that authorized torture.

We're voting for the party of science rather than dogma. The party that recognizes a healthy economy requires regulation rather than one that adheres to extremist theories of laissez-faire economics. The party that didn't try to turn the justice department into a branch of the Republican party.

Barack Obama isn't perfect. He's opposed to gay marriage and supports faith-based initiatives. He's young and relatively untested. I'm skeptical of his push for more troops in Afghanistan. But he is smart and open-minded and willing to fight for people who need fighting for.

If he does nothing but roll back the previous eight years of tax cuts for the rich, disastrous foreign policy, and cronyism in government, it will be a huge improvement. But if he listens to the experts -- not the partisan "experts" as Bush did, but the real experts who follow the truth wherever it leads -- he might just be able to lead us through the economic meltdown and get us back on the right path. He might be able to disentangle us from Iraq and then, I hope, from Afghanistan. He will certainly make sure that literally millions of Americans will get health care they desperately need and otherwise would not have gotten.

But also he will restore our image in the world. Colin Powell said that "it's killing us" abroad that Americans have been calling Obama a Muslim and an Arab and implying that either one would disqualify a man from the presidency. Before George Bush, (many) people everywhere looked to America as a beacon of freedom and diversity and tolerance. Now we're more famous for war and torture and Guantanamo Bay.

But how many kids named "Hussein" are there growing up in Saudi Arabia and Iraq and Pakistan and the Palestinian territories who are going to see the U.S. elect a man named Barack Hussein Obama -- despite those Republicans who wield his name as a weapon -- and realize that all the terrible things their parents and teachers say about America are not true -- that we really are a land of opportunity and tolerance and meritocracy? And how many black kids have heard over and over again that they can be anything they want to be, but haven't been able to really believe it?

Republicans like Sarah Palin and Ronald Reagan have used John Winthrop's phrase "The Shining City Upon A Hill" to describe America. I love that (and am reminded of Judaism's notion of being a "light unto the nations") and I think we have that potential. The last few years have been a little darker and a little lower than most of us would like. Obama's election can makes us shine bright again.

These photos of Obama, by the way, are great.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Credit Where Credit is Due: Charlie Crist

I'm becoming a fan of Republican Governor Charlie Crist. I mentioned him a while back for pardoning Richard Paey, a man who was jailed for taking pain medication that he had been prescribed. Now I find out he extended the voting hours in Florida even though it will almost certainly help the Democrats and he has endorsed John McCain.

Why did he do it?
At a hastily arranged news conference, Crist said the right to vote is sacred and that "many have fought and died for this right." He said he consulted a leading Democratic legislator, Rep. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, before issuing his order, and that Gelber knew of a similar order issued by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2002 that dealt with helping voters deal with new equipment. (Buzz audio here.)

As to the perception that more early voting helps Democrats, Crist said: "This is not a political decision. This is a people decision."

Kudos to Gov. Crist for actually putting country (or state) ahead of politics.

Bill Maher and Mike Huckabee Discuss Religion

Sunday, November 02, 2008

GOP Jews Who Cry Wolf

If you keep calling people antisemitic and darkly warning of new holocausts for no good reason, people are going to stop listening to you.

This is a mailer being sent out by the Republican Jewish Coalition in Pennsylvania:

And this is John McCain's deputy communications director Michael Goldfarb:

Thankfully, most Jews see right through them. We're overwhelmingly supporting Obama:

Saturday, November 01, 2008

It Just Doesn't Get Any Simpler Than This

It's no coincidence that Mormons are leading the charge against gay marriage in California. They aren't big fans of interracial marriage, either. As late as 2001, the official website of the Mormon Church "discouraged" interracial marriage. And of course black people were not allowed to be Mormon priests until 1978.

Curiously, that page is no longer on their website.