Over the past few years I’ve made a long and slow theological transition. The whole overview of that will be in another post at another time, but in a nutshell, I’m moving away from classical theism. However, I can assure people I won’t be turning into one of those Richard Dawkins quoting, trilby wearing aristocrats everyone hates at parties. If I were to use an analogy, if Christianity was a house and every room was a different denomination(with the Pentecostals upstairs making all the racket), consider me outside in the backyard in a tank top and cargo shorts shooting off model rockets while some post-rock band is blaring on my boombox. I cannot explain my beliefs quickly (still writing that post), and that puts me in a precarious situation when that subject comes up on a date. Honestly, it’s easier for me to talk about war torn Syria than my theological beliefs while on a date.
Wait, Do You Hate God, or Are You Dating Him?
Online dating is getting more and more attribute driven, and while I welcome that change, It’s kind of hard when I have to explain myself and the only way I can do so is select christian, agnostic, or atheist. If I select christian, women who weep every Sunday waiting for Jesus to send them a husband pounce and make all these assumptions that I’m hardy boys conservative. If I select agnostic, people assume I probably haven’t given it much thought, when it actually is one of the biggest mental journeys of my life and I absolutely hold it at the core of myself. If I select atheist, people assume I’ll yell at them if I sneeze and they say, “God bless you”.
Even though those options are a result of the dating site (lack of) design, it’s not much easier when in person.
“So are you a christian?” “Well yeah, kind of.” (normally this is where they either begin to talk about marriage and children or end the date.) “So you go to church every Sunday, ok.” “Well no.” “So you don’t believe in God?” “Well it’s not really that easy to explain.” “Oh my god, you’re married!” storms off Sitting alone “Can someone please put Queen on the jukebox please?” Another One Bites the Dust Plays
And this is even before I talk about how I near missed a M.Theo at a seminary and was a youth leader for a few years. Leaving a robust church community with many young singles to dating out in the real world is like leaving a group dinner at Chili’s to go play in traffic. Not giving a shit about their spouse’s beliefs has quickly risen to the top of qualities I like to see in a partner. However, as much as I laugh about it, there seems to be a very real deflation of community at the core of where we’re going as a culture, so the silver lining here is at least I know I’m not the only one experiencing this, and I’m not just talking about romantic relationships.
God’s Dead Jim
One of the biggest philosophical misconceptions is Friedrich Nietzsche’s infamous phrase, “God is Dead”. So many people take it as a statement of celebration, as if Fred is high fiving his existentialist buddies across the poker table immediately after saying it. Others take it as if he means God is literally dead as if he wrecked his dirt bike hitting some sick jumps up in heaven. Just read them in their full(er) context.
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” - The Gay Science (Section 125, The Madman):
The western world depended on the structure of religion for centuries, it gave order to society and meaning to life regardless of its truthfulness. Without it, Nietzsche writes, society will move into an age of nihilism. Even though you could easily say that Nietzsche himself probably was a nihilist by definition, he abhorred it and warned that accepting nihilism would be dangerous. Giving up on religion would mean that society would be left to find new ways of supplying themselves with guidance, purpose, meaning, and even social support. In towns all across the country over the past few centuries, churches were the central core of community. Getting rid of them seem to suggest a tangent pointed directly at total chaos, which is why Nietzsche built on this idea and used the analogy of an open sea, exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. I wrote a blog post a few years ago which coincidentally used the same analogy. This idea, this plunge into nihilism led to his other ideas like the Übermensch and his final unfinished project, Revaluation of All Values.
Not many people truly understand how earth shattering the loss of meaning, purpose, and community is. For someone who has left a belief system as well as the church community in it, they feel it. Growing up in a somewhat closer knit church community, I was able to easily build deeper relationships, and by easy I mean there was virtually no work required. That is because a church doesn’t operate the same intimate wavelength that way a book club, farmers market, coffee shop, or any attempt at a replacement operate. Given the presented believed eternal implications of whatever that system is, it requires at least some intimacy upon stepping into the door. An anime appreciation meetup or fantasy football group at the local bar doesn’t have that.
American culture has moved at a somewhat consistent pace from the 1920s to today, however if you grew up in a much more fundamentalist subculture, it’s like living on the water planet in Interstellar where time moves slower. Getting up and leaving that is like experiencing around 80 years of cultural shift in a flash. For the first couple months we’re walking around like Brenden Frasier in Encino Man still greeting people with the titles “Brother” and “Sister” until it dawns on us how unusual that is.
I’m not saying its impossible to make deep intimate relationships outside of a functioning church community, I’m just saying it’s much harder. Like going from riding a bike to riding a unicycle and juggling bowling pins harder. I had a discussion with a friend who is in a similar position as myself over labor day about it. He lamented not about the number of relationships, in fact, there may be more since leaving the fray. However, the depth of them now are not like they used to. Relationships are now formed over a mutual appreciation of something a little frivolous, compared to a deep existential pondering with eternal ramifications. There isn’t even a regularity anymore, friendships in classical church communities almost blurred the lines between friends and family. Now, it feels like hanging out more than twice a week requires an introverted esque decompression before continuing. Now I’m not trying to paint a lovely picture of classical fundamentalist Christianity. I’m just saying that it had a social structure that was effective at facilitating relationships.
Now, more and more relationships are online only. Moving across the country did that for me, where 90% of my friendships have made the migration from physical to digital. That’s like moving your most prized possessions from a safe to a furnace. What about trying to make new relationships(romantic and non romantic) online?
Online Dating is like the Stock Market and We’re All Working at Enron
If leaving a close knit community causes one to miss out on a little mutual intimacy, the proliferation of online identities moves the needle further in that direction to the eventual negative intimacy. Giving someone the ability of embellishing their online identity has turned regular online social interaction into a game keeping up with the Joneses. It makes the Greek myth Narcissus look like gospel truth. Rarely does anyone ever admit their flaws in a dating profile, and when they do it’s probably because they’re new here. Everyone is swinging for the fence so the slightest scratch in your paint job will cause someone to next you really quick. That is the opposite of intimacy.
Dating apps have created what some might call the sexual market in an attempt to quantify the dating scene. But I believe that’s a misnomer since it’s purely focusing on sexuality, because there is so much more at play. Basically, it has caused everyone online to be an entity with the supply of 1 where certain variables such as appearance, occupation, personality will alter the demand value. Naturally, extremely attractive and successful people are clamored to while the 55 year old guy who sends creepy messages will probably be on the opposite end of that spectrum. Now I don’t want to explore the concept of the sexual market too much, I just want explain how the entire market plummeted.
The inherent value of everyone has plummeted because of the abundance of alternatives. Meeting someone online is almost as easy as ordering a pizza. In 1997, Sam Houston State University did a study on relationship commitment and alternatives and found that “there was no better predictor of relationship failure than high attentiveness to alternatives”, and that study was done before the age of social media. Basically, if norm is very self centered and you’re not providing someone with exactly what they’re looking for, they might not be around for a while. Have you ever ever been ghosted before? If I specifically want a backup camera in my car and Ford doesn’t offer it, I can easily walk across the street and get one at Volkswagen. Because of the abundance of the field, everyone is already getting off on the wrong foot because it requires no investment. In a way, people are starting to become disposable to others. “There’s always other fish in the sea” is the line that is supposed to make everything feel better, when it actually ends up keeping us from investing what we need to get to that place of intimacy.
In college, I was halfway done with a thesis on anonymity in the internet when I converted it to work credits and got an internship, but the amount of difference regarding people’s behavior online when they were using their own profile versus when they were anonymous was astounding. One of my favorite quotes is by Oscar Wilde, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”. This is why some of the most honest and intimate personal things you can read from someone is when someone comments on Reddit using a throwaway account, because there’s no risk. The risk with intimacy is the possibility it’s not reciprocated back to yourself. My last two blog posts were excruciating to write regarding loneliness and depression and having my face attached. One-way intimacy feels like you’re being dissected on stage, as if you’re a morbid sideshow in a Rob Zombie film.
Like a ripple effect, that fear of one way intimacy has shifted things further down the line, this has skewed the entire culture to be much more superficial. Being intimate with someone, opening your true self up and then that person walking away is hard, extremely hard. Its almost impossible not to take that personal. Predictably, I’m seeing more and more people walking into online relationships with an almost germaphobe mentality. And sadly those are the same people who derive their opinion of a date from a special feeling. People are walking around inside giant protective shells and then wonder why they never feel anything. Like objects at the beginning of the formulation of the universe, the space between everything is expanding and it’s all moving further apart.
The Password is Fidelio
What I’m really trying to say is walking away from a community that provided you something your entire life and then trying to formulate that something with the same depth elsewhere is extremely difficult. It doesn’t even have to be a religious one, it could be high school or college. If you’re dealing with this very feeling, you’re not giving yourself enough credit, because it is harder than many people realize. Some people will just tell me to swallow my pride and attend some community that’s a little familiar, but I cannot describe the chasm sized wavelength difference without an entire other post. Moving on to new communities requires a lot of self awareness, a lot of examination at the interlocking parts with how I can better connect with someone new. I’m looking into the mirror and see that I haven’t been good with this “Do unto others as you would have done onto you” ethic. Many times I’ve craved people’s intimacy and have never offered any of my own. I’ve tried to keep things at a distance for the sake of keeping myself from being hurt when in the end it’s exasperating as if I never took a breath of air. I look back on those things and cringe at myself for good reason.
In the end, you have to be faithful to yourself. The frustrations of online dating aren’t only felt by one or two of us. This is the like the same frustration at traffic when cars were invented. That’s the way the machine works, but it probably won’t stay like this for long. The world is changing faster and faster. More and more services are being created to fill this void of white noise, even if a swipeable app to meet friends. It comes off a little tone deaf in it’s functionality is the same as the superficial apps, but I digress. There are suggestions that we wont be using the internet in the future like we use now. In the meantime, don’t let anyone view you as disposable, and viewing others as disposable will only be a distraction as if you’re just kicking the can down the road. True intimacy is this Divine Dance that I bark about all the time, but getting there requires a lot of risk, but even more hard work.