Saturday, March 31, 2007

At the risk of beating a dead horse...

To clarify my Questioning Objectification post, I'd like to emphasize that I think it is very bad for sexuality to be imposed upon women in an inappropriate context. My point is that it is far easier to tackle inappropriate sexual treatment if you're holding in your other hand a clear model of what constitutes appropriate sexual expression.

Men can understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Just because it's okay for a given man to fondle his wife or girlfriend in the privacy of their bedroom, he will not immediately assume that means it's okay for him to fondle strangers on the bus. The fact that it's okay to stare at an image on a screen won't make a man automatically assume that it's okay to stare at a colleague's chest at work or to make unwanted comments about the bodies of platonic friends.

Much of our culture gives young guys the following message: "The morality police don't want you looking at sexy women at all," with the accompanying flip-side message "but, hey, it's a guy thing..."

Feminists who view sexuality in terms of objectification are promoting exactly the same message. Behaviors that should be denounced as harassment are held up as some sort of proof that sexuality is fundamentally about men using women, as if harassment were an inseparable component of male sexuality.

But when a woman chooses to step up on stage and deliberately promotes her sex-appeal as part of her act, there's a big difference between seeking out such fare as part of one's leisure entertainment versus imposing sexual attention on women who don't want it. Feminists should be the vanguard of emphasizing this distinction.

Now the attentive feminist will be pointing out that the consent of the performer alone is not always a sufficient measure of whether a sexualized image is appropriate. For example, in the media it's often a problem that a man in a non-sexual role is expected to look stately and wise, whereas a woman in the same role is required to look young and beautiful. This disparity shows up in newscasters as well as in the portrayal of parents in sitcoms (as I discussed here). Such cases can be analyzed and treated more effectively based on a rational theory of expecting the media to present a balanced and realistic portrayal of women as whole people -- a portrayal that includes sexuality as well as including females who are interesting and esteemed for qualities other than beauty. We'll never get anywhere on such problems if we base our feminist analysis on the irrational and utterly worthless theory that displays of sexuality degrade women and place them in an inferior position.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

More fab blog art!!!

I hope you're all as excited as I am about the fact that Main Street Plaza is going to be running a Mormon fiction series!!!

Robert Raleigh, who edited the anthology In Our Lovely Deseret: Mormon Fictions, will be directing the project, and he's picked a great story to start the ball rolling: "Love, Mormon Style," by Bob Bringhurst!!! This is one of my favorites from his anthology, as I mentioned in my review.

For fun, I was thinking that each story should have a graphic (hopefully to be used as a sidebar button -- still working with tech on this), and since "Love, Mormon Style" is clearly a reference to the old television comedy "Love, American Style," I couldn't help but want to do a riff on the "Love, American Style" logo for this one!!!

The problem of course was that I had no idea what the "Love, American Style" logo looks like since I've never seen the show (indeed I probably wouldn't have heard of it if my dad hadn't mentioned it a few times). But such a setback isn't a problem for long in our magical modern Internet era -- wikipedia to the rescue!!!

The Wikipedia entry provided the following graphic:

Which I "improved" as follows:


The plan is to get some other artists to do some of the graphics since my cartoony style doesn't necessarily match the tone of many of the stories and it's better if they don't all look alike. Meanwhile I haven't completed a single new illustration yet for Youth Conference, which is scheduled to begin April 17...

Dangit, there are too many exciting things going on in blogspace -- it's hard to keep track of it all, much less have a real-world life on the side... ;-)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A change of faith?

I've been a atheist for a really long time because, well, I hadn't seen convincing evidence for God's existence. Until today. I just found out about some really amazing miracles while I was reading the website of the Church of the FSM.

When I clicked on the site, there was a post about the image of the FSM appearing in a sand dune, and the dune in question was none other than the Dune of Pyla, which is near where I live!!! I've been there!!!

When I saw the Dune of Pyla right there on the front page of the Church of the FSM site, I felt like the Flying Spaghetti Monster was talking directly to me. (although hopefully not touching me with his "noodly appendage" as they say because that's kind of creepy...)

Even more convincing is the miracle of the fact that the expanding universe and mouse neurons are both seen to have the form of FSM:

Now, that can't be a coincidence or have a natural explanation, can it?

So, I was thinking of converting to Pastafarianism. I figure it wouldn't be much of a lifestyle change for my family since my kids already like pirates.

On the other hand, if I'm going to join a religion, I have to be sure I'm picking the right one (otherwise that whole "Pascal's wager" thingy doesn't work), and there was one other contender that caught my attention: Thor. The Thor-worshipers like to say "You believe in Jesus? Well, I believe in Thor. Your god died nailed to a cross. My god has a hammer. Any questions?"

That's a pretty convincing argument since if you're going to be "God-fearing" it makes sense to pick a God who really inspires fear. So I'm torn.

Of course it may already be too late to steer my kids off the atheist track. My little Leo loves this evolution of Homer video we found posted at Pharyngula -- he keeps watching it over and over and laughing.

So which should I go with? FSM? Thor? Or should I just keep on atheizing?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Questioning Objectification

If there's one thesis I'd like to nail to the church door of feminism, it would be this:

Desire does not equal objectification.

Many women believe that when a man is aroused by the sight of a woman -- particularly by seeing and touching her face, hair, and body -- he reduces her in his mind to a "sex object."

Probably the most serious problem with this theory is that -- like the concept of sin -- the doctrine of objectification clouds the real issue: consent. Weighing sexual expression in terms of objectification encourages people to lump consensual and non-consensual sex acts together as being both harmful to women. It discourages people from using consent (or lack thereof) as a good measure of whether harm has been done.

Unfortunately it's difficult to debate the concept of objectification on its merits because the term "objectification" is not well-defined. There's no clear-cut criteria for determining what is objectification and what isn't. Even the notoriously ill-defined term "porn" is easier to pin down. I've seen the term "objectification" applied to any instance of a man deriving pleasure from seeing or touching a woman's body, especially if specific body parts act as a trigger for arousal. So the charge of objectification can be used to condemn a huge range of sexual expression. Yet when it comes time to demonstrate the harm, the term "objectification" contracts to cover only the most flagrant examples. Thus it becomes nearly impossible to discuss or debate the concept in any reasonable manner.

Nonetheless, I'd like to try to hold up the concept of objectification to scrutiny based on what seems to be the popular definition.

The problem with the concept of objectification is that it is not consistent with reality. Feeling aroused when presented with certain sexual cues is an involuntary biological response that has nothing whatsoever to do with a man's capacity to see women as whole people, as equals, as partners, as colleagues, etc.

Being irrational, the doctrine of objectification is counterproductive. It alienates potential allies. There are many men who respect the abilities of their female colleagues and would like to stand up for women's equality. However they are made to feel that if an image of a nude woman turns them on, then they are the enemy and not welcome to call themselves feminists. For many men, feeling aroused by the female form is a fundamental component of their sexuality that no amount of "education" can possibly change any more than prayer will change a gay person into a straight person. Feminists should be educating these men that their arousal response is normal, but that there's a time and a place for it, and they need to be careful to treat they the women they interact with in the way the women would like to be treated. Feminists should not be saying "If you masturbate in the privacy of your own home while thinking about women and/or looking at consensually produced images, then you're a misogynist!"

As much of a shame as it is to alienate potential male allies however, the real tragedy is that the doctrine of objectification also alienates many women. It is not possible to condemn male sexuality without (as a side effect) condemning the sexuality of many straight women who like to have sex with men. If a woman is aroused by showing off her own body -- and in particular is aroused by seeing the effect she has on men -- then the doctrine of objectification tells her that she's disrespecting herself by turning herself into a sex object. The problem again is that this is a perfectly ordinary arousal cue, well within the range of normal arousal cues for women. The feminist movement should be encouraging women to explore their sexuality openly, not limiting what female sexuality is allowed.

As you might guess, this issue is important to me personally because I fall into that class of women who are sometimes made to feel unwelcome at the feminist table. I've spent quite a lot of time analyzing my own sexuality, and being honest with my own desires, I have come to the realization that I am far more aroused by turning a man on -- by the thought of male desire -- than I am by looking at an image of a beautiful man. Patriarchal religionists as well as feminists who preach the doctrine of objectification would tell me that this is because I have internalized "man as subject" in my personal sexual narrative and/or that I must want to be an object and therefore don't respect myself. But in reality it doesn't mean that at all. It doesn't mean anything. It is a random arousal cue. Period.

Now I would like to quote my favorite columnist, Dan Savage:
Not all men into BDSM are chauvinist pigs. There are tons of misogynist males out there into strictly vanilla sex.[...] There's no rhyme or reason to most people's fantasies;
[Note that Dan Savage's column is adult, however I encourage people who are not offended by it to go read the whole thing because I've taken this quote way out of context: here]

As I said in my feminist sexuality post I don't think that it's possible for anyone who is following my blog to seriously argue that I lack self-confidence, self-respect, or self-esteem. It pisses me off that the feminist movement would make me feel like I need to defend myself against such charges.

Personally, in my own relationships, I have never once had a problem with the question "Does he like me as a whole person? Or does he see me as just a means to get off?"

Do you want to know why?

Because "Does he find me interesting to talk to?" is absolutely the wrong question for a feminist to be asking herself. The right question is "Do I find him interesting to talk to?"

It turns out that the people I am interested in talking to are interested in talking to me.

It is because of my own self-confidence that there is no danger I will be mistaken for an object by anyone whose opinion matters.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Princess Action Hero!!!

Nico: Mommy, you're the princess.
me: Okay, here's my sword.
Nico: No, Mommy, princesses don't have swords!
me: Princesses don't have swords? Really?
Nico: No, a princess has a club called an "ack" and she whacks the dragon over the head with it, like this: *Whack!* That's how a princess slays a dragon!

So my kids are into knights these days. And they've gotten the idea that one of the things a knight does is slay a dragon and another is to rescue a princess. However, since they basically learned this from watching Shrek, it's not clear that they see "rescued princess" as an entirely passive role...

Helping me with my work reinforces this impression, especially when they help me test my "Dungeon" game:

...where the player is a princess who escapes from a dungeon by unlocking doors with a set of differently-colored keys. ;-)

As far as their knights are concerned, they do a lot of ordinary knight stuff. They love to slay dragons (though they don't generally kill the dragon, as that would be a problem for slaying it again later...) They also love to fight each other with swords and they love to rescue the princess, and when they rescue her, they give her a kiss, just as Princess Fiona says they should!

But we're a fairly affectionate family and if one of our boys hurts the other we have the one say sorry to the other with a kiss on the cheek. So I've seen Nico have the two knights kiss each other and say "I love you, Gordon the Brave Knight," "I love you, Henry the Brave Knight." lol

I know all conservative parents reading this will be horrified and see this as the evil feminist mom shortchanging boys by turning them gay. But really, I encourage their play with "boys' stuff" like trains, and I don't discourage them from play fighting each other with toy swords and bows and arrows (maybe I should...? They do that far more frequently than express affection...).

And even if I thought it was a bad thing that they might be gay (I don't), I think in this case it's more a question of being comfortable expressing affection and not really making a distinction between romantic and other types of love...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A different kind of fun: Alison Bechdel's Fun Home

The minute I heard that Alison Bechdel had written a graphic novel about her childhood, I couldn't wait to read it.

As you may know, Alison Bechdel is the artist who draws the comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For, which is something of a political soap opera following the lives of a community of lesbians through their romantic relationships and political struggles. I love this comic strip because Bechdel creates so many different characters with such depth that you can't help but care about them and their lives and wonder what they'll do next. Also impressive is the way Bechdel handles complex political questions: instead of picking the "right" answer and banging you over the head with it, she has different characters hold different views and shows them discussing their opinions in a believable way as issues arise in their daily lives. Nowhere else have I seen such an effective weaving of the personal with the political as in the work of Alison Bechdel.

As much as I love "Dykes To Watch Out For," however, I almost feel like I like her memoir The Indelible Alison Bechdel even more. I love her portrait of growing up and coming out as a lesbian, and her description of how she was formed and influenced by the culture around her.

I wish I could show you all the stuff I love from this book (you have to get your own copy for that, and it isn't even the book I'm reviewing today ;-) ) but here's a little taste:

As you might guess, this book was a big influence for me when writing the story Young Women's.

Fun Home has a few darker notes compared to Bechdel's other works. The tone is set in the dark humor of the title, "Fun Home" being the family's term for the funeral home that they ran.

This book adds a whole new dimension to Bechdel's self-portrait. It's the same lovable character... context:

More than a portrait of Bechdel herself, however, Fun Home is her portrait of her father, obsessively restoring and decorating a grand Victorian mansion and raising a traditional Catholic family despite the fact that he was gay.

Bechdel's memoir hits some of the same notes found in Jennifer Lee's memoir of raising children with a gay husband (My Ex is Having Sex with Rex), especially the idea that while there was something fundamentally not working about the relationship, at the same time they really were a family.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Le Hammourabi

Continuing in my series on ethnic curiosities of Bordeaux, this past week I had lunch at the restaurant Hammourabi!!!

I had to try this place out because I was intrigued by the idea of a Sumerian-themed restaurant. It originally had a sign written in cuneiform, which really made me curious about the place. Now the sign is partially written in Aramaic:

Both this photo and the one at the top were taken from inside the restaurant looking out -- I inverted this photo so you can read it more easily.

It turns out that the proprietor is a Syrian (Eastern Orthodox) Christian, and very interested in the culture of his native region. He showed me a sheepskin document he had written (a wall-hanging in the restaurant) and explained that it was the Lord's prayer which he had written himself in Aramaic, pointing out that that was the actual language spoken by Jesus (unlike every other Christian sect, who all read Jesus in translation...):

The culture is apparently a direct continuation of the Mesopotamian civilization, which has the oldest known recorded history. Hammurabi was the king at the time of the first written code of laws.

I brought along my husband and a colleague of his (a mathematician visiting from Lebanon) to have lunch at the restaurant. Now I know you're probably thinking "Great, Chanson, he's visiting from Lebanon, and you immediately think to take him to a Syrian-Lebanese restaurant..." But the thing is that he's visiting France for a full month, and I'm sure all of the other French mathematicians will be proudly taking him to places where he can sample the local (French) cuisine, so he was willing to try this out. It was fun because he was able to describe and recommend some dishes, and explained that region of Syria that the restaurant owners are from is particularly famous for its cuisine (Aleppo).

Here are some tasty stuffed grape leaves, with some Sumerian art in the background for atmosphere. It also turned out that the Lebanese wine that was featured at the restaurant was made by some sort of relative of our Lebanese friend.

This is Makdoos which I had as an appetizer, and below is what I chose as a main course, Kibbe Labniyye.

I'm not really a restaurant critic, so I can't describe the food in detail, but it was quite delicious, and a fun cultural and educational experience!!! :D

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Main Street Plaza!!!

Please stop by and check out the new post-Mormon community blog Main Street Plaza!!!

I'm really pleased that Hellmut and some others from the FLAK site have made the effort to organize this. I feel like the post-Mormon blogging community has grown and matured to the point of needing a central, general-interest group blog. (It seems like only last year it was a cute little bitty baby blog network... *sniff*)

Now I know there are already a bunch of sites that have related niches, but to me they all seem somewhat more specialized:

The Cultural Hall: How and why to continue to practice Mormonism and believe parts of it even if you don't buy the whole enchilada.
Equality Time: Hard-hitting criticism of church policies and doctrines with the idea of changing the institution for the better.
The Mormon Curtain: Criticism of the LDS church (its history, doctrine, and practices) with the object of exploring the many ways it is bad.
FAIR: Debate between believers and non-believers over doctrinal and historical issues.
Sunstone Blog: erudite discussion of Mormon beliefs and culture. (I had to look up "erudite" to make sure I was using it correctly, but there's something about Sunstone that made me think of that word...)
Carnival of the Veil: A bi-weekly carnival highlighting interesting recent articles in post-Mormon blogspace.
Mind on Fire: "A frontier land where critical believers can explore doubt and compassionate atheists can experiment with spirituality."
Letters from a Broad: All about me. Me, me, and more me.

And many others. Just check out my sidebar -- it's longer than the text part of my blog these days!!!

I think Main Street Plaza has the potential to cover all of these topics and more, but in a more general way. But to be a successful community blog it will need participation from the community!!!

So here's what you can do:

Bloggers, please add this to your blogroll, and dig through your archives for a good discussion post that didn't get enough attention when you first ran it, but might be re-run as a guest post on MSP. Everybody, think of submitting a guest post. Something as simple as a discussion question or a link to an LDS-interest article or cartoon is welcome as well as a complete article about your own experiences, insights, research, and art work. Or if you're interested in being a regular contributor/writer/permablogger (the organization is still in its early stages), please contact Main Street Plaza.

Here's the contact address:

Hope to see you there!!! :D

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Young Women's

Last week, I finished posting Young Women's, which is part I of my novel Exmormon. Here are the four chapters:

1. Barbie Dolls and the Book of Mormon
2. A goal to gain a testimony
3. Truth or Dare!
4. Divine intervention

I'm taking a short pause before I begin posting Youth Conference. I've scheduled myself to begin it on April 17.

The reason for the pause is so that I can have plenty of time to do the illustrations. They're fun to do, but time consuming. And if possible I'd like to have them all done before I begin so that I can prepare a character chart for Youth Conference like the one I did for Young Women's: characters.

In other good news, I was reading along on a post by Wry Catcher the other day about a potpourri of interesting topics, and I happened upon a recommendation for my book!!!

Related to this, I bought and read C. L. Hanson’s novel Ex-Mormon, which was a very good read, and I gobbled it all up in two days time. Fascinating look at mormon and ex-mormon characters. I’m not writing an in-depth review because I’m not that kind of English major, but I very much enjoyed it, and I recommend reading this one!

Thanks Wry!!! :D

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Modern Baal worship??? Um, is that a joke?

I probably shouldn't be giving publicity to Chick Publications by linking to them, but I was just looking over some of these the other day, and I can hardly believe anyone could think this stuff is right. It's not just that they're hateful and offensive -- they're just so mind-bogglingly wacky...

If I were still a believing Mormon, I'd be tempted to take this as a compliment coming from these guys, particularly the thing about Mormonism being a combination of Judaism and Catholicism. Because when the Chick Publications people say you're like the Catholics, you know they really care -- there ain't nobody these guys hate like they hate the Catholics!!!

Just looking at this list I found, it looks like they've got at least ten different tracts to explain that the Catholic Church is the church of Satan, including the fabulously-named made to be a "B" horror flick: Deaaaaath Cookie!!! Mwahahahaha!!!

The one that amazes me most though is The Deceived. When I read the synopsis ("Exposes Islam as a conspiracy of the Catholic church and, by proxy, Satan"), I thought the synopsis writer had to exaggerating or something. Nope. That's really what's in that one. The impressive part isn't so much the efficiency of it (insults both Muslims and Catholics in one stroke!) as the creativity of it. I mean, how would you even come up with such a thing?

It looks like they've written seven tractfulls of holy rebukes for Muslims and five for homosexuals. But aside from the one about evolution, I only found one that seemed directed at atheists. So I guess we atheists are down in the small potatoes category with the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses. Sheesh, even the Masons warranted two!!! Oh, well... ;-)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Dan Savage and new sexual ethics...

I am so sick of Cheating Is Always Wrong types insisting with one breath that sex and sexual exclusivity are hugely important. Even the contemplation of an affair, to say nothing of its consummation, represents an unforgivable betrayal. And then in the very next breath, CIAWers insist that sex is so unimportant, so colossally trivial, that a person should be able to go without -- forever! -- if their mate is unwilling or incapable.

You can't have it both ways, CIAWers. If sex is hugely important, then people can't be faulted for wanting some; if it's unimportant, then it shouldn't be seen as a huge betrayal when some poor f-ckers, under duress, are forced to get their needs met elsewhere.

--Dan Savage, March 27, 2007

So what do you think, folks? Radical or reactionary???

In my virginity: once an asset, now a liability post I've already discussed a bit about the natural conflict in modern marriage that arises from the fact that each spouse has the right to insist on 100% fidelity and also the right to refuse sex with one's partner 100% of the time. On the other hand, I'm sure that many will read Mr. Savage's statement and see that olde-tyme wisdom: "If your husband cheated on you, it's your fault for not satisfying him."

My personal take is that his position is pretty reasonable. If you follow his column, his GGG (good, giving, and game) strategy basically boils down to a consistent philosophy of making a sincere good faith effort to accommodate your partner's needs and constraints. His radical idea seems to be that when one partner refuses sex (or wants it to be more vanilla) then that person isn't always the angel and the one that wants more sex or wants to indulge a harmless-yet-eccentric fantasy isn't always the demon.

I think if a difference in libido or fantasies is the only major problem in a relationship, then good communication and good faith effort to be as considerate and accommodating as possible will generally solve it. But sometimes the problems are more serious in a relationship where there are still good reasons not to give up completely.

Dan Savage says:
But here's a pro that's rarely acknowledged: Sometimes cheating can save a long-term relationship. Sometimes only cheating makes it possible for a sexually rejected partner to stay in a relationship that's worth preserving for other good, valid reasons -- like kids, for instance. And sometimes only cheating makes it possible for a person whose partner has a chronic, debilitating illness to stay put and stay sane. In these cases, cheating isn't just the right thing to do; it's the decent and honorable thing to do.

So is Dan right? Is cheating ever "the decent and honorable thing to do"?

With his example of a couple with small kids where one partner has cut off sexual contact completely: Is it more selfish to divorce over it? Or to cheat? Or are both choices selfish beyond the pale? What about in his "chronic, debilitating illness" example?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Portrait of a girl...

I've done a couple more guest posts for The Hathor Legacy: Girls Will Be Girls and Jungle Book II: the story of how a female character is softened.

These are in addition to my earlier posts Do Boys Like Stories about Girls? (with its follow-up The Knights of Disney) and The Tale of Mr. Morton (about Schoolhouse Rock).

That's all I have planned for this series, but I may write for The Hathor Legacy again if I think of anything more I'd like to say about portrayal of female characters in the media, particularly in children's programming which is my specialty.

I'd analyze grown-up T.V. and movies too, except that I watch grown-up media almost never. It's not that I don't like stuff for grown-ups, it's just that all of my recreational entertainment time is eaten up by my tragic Internet habit... ;-)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Divine Intervention, part 2

The conclusion of Young Women's.

Sure enough we had no trouble finding Sarah again since she was obviously looking for us. She was standing at the balcony overlooking the main open court of the mall. Lynn walked straight up to her and with an exaggerated expression of concern in her voice asked "Where were you? We looked all over for you! We told you not to wander off!" Melissa was having trouble hiding her laughter.

Sarah looked a little confused and said "I'm sorry, I guess I wasn't paying attention."

"Well, don't let it happen again," said Amy. "We were really worried!"

But sure enough, we had hardly been shopping for twenty minutes when Melissa tapped me and whispered "Quick! Run! Now!" and ran away.

more ->

Friday, March 02, 2007

Do you want to live forever? or the many reasons why I don't like death...

When I was a kid, I kind of looked forward to the famed "Judgment Day." Not because I thought I'd score well or anything. ;-) Rather, I liked the idea that every moment -- every precious moment -- is being recorded.

Probably for some of you, the first thing that jumped into your minds reading the above was "Even when you're in the can? You want that recorded? Eeew!!!" But I was hoping to just fast-forward through those parts. What I liked was the idea that days I'd completely forgotten could be brought back and that I could even watch all of the dreams that were lost before morning.

Giving up belief in the afterlife means accepting the fact that past events that are forgotten are gone completely. You no longer get to look forward to one day learning the right answer to all of those historical questions that are in dispute. Like what was really in that lost Spalding manuscript and did it even exist? If the evidence has been destroyed, then the correct answer can never be known.

What's more, I liked the idea that other people's experiences wouldn't be lost either. Maybe this is weird of me, but when learning about ancient cultures and their customs, a lot of times I think about all of the people who lived, loved, and thought, who are today gone without a trace.

But all of that isn't really why I don't like the idea of death. More than anything else, I just don't like the idea that one day all of my thoughts will stop and I will simply cease to exist.

Part of the problem is that non-existence is inconceivable: I have to exist in order to contemplate anything at all. (We discussed this point in a related post over on The Fire Sermon.)

But it's more than that. The main problem I have with death is that my mind and senses are my only window to observing and contemplating the universe. Sure the universe can get along just fine without me, but if I'm not there to observe it, then to me it's as if it doesn't exist. To me, once I'm dead, it's not just that there will be no me, it's that there will be nothing at all -- everything comes to an end.

I don't know if that makes any sense. Maybe someone will explain why that point makes no sense so I can stop worrying about it. ;-)

I have one other problem with death that probably makes even less sense than that one, but let me see if I can try to explain it:

Nine out of ten atheists agree that when you stop believing in the afterlife, then real life seems that much more precious. When this is all there is, you want to cherish every moment and live life to the fullest. You don't have the infinities for procrastinating your dreams -- anything you fail to do before death, you won't do it ever.

But then here's the problem: Suppose you live exactly the full life you set out to live and accomplish everything you ever wanted to accomplish. Who does that really matter to? It matters to you. But then after you're dead it doesn't matter to you anymore because nothing matters to you anymore -- you're dead. You could try living your life to make a positive impact on other people that will continue after your death. But someday they'll be dead too. Hmmm.

This is why I try not to think about this.

Weirdly, none of this nonsense seems to have any effect on my desire to live a full life and achieve my dreams and make a positive impact on the lives of others. I guess it's because my life matters to me as long as I'm alive, and I'm alive now (at the time of this writing anyway...).

It only bothers me when I think about it. Which is why it would be better if I could stop thinking about it. It seems like it would be nice to be able to contemplate life and death from the outside rather than being intimately and ultimately bound by it. I think that's the draw of a monastic life: you give up "worldly" things in hopes of opting out of the cycle of life by attempting to rise above it, and by trying to deny that you're a part of that cycle and that it's a part of you.

Unfortunately, fear of death seems like an obvious consequence of being human. As with all animals, natural selection has provided humans with a powerful will to survive. Yet the human trait of understanding that you're alive means realizing that one day you will die. And it's not just "if you're not careful, you'll die." It's you will die. period.

Sometimes religion seems like an obsessive-compulsive style strategy for dealing with this internal conflict: since there's nothing real that you can do to ward off death, performing rituals, prayers, and incantations seems better than nothing. This is why skepticism and atheism are scary: they lead you to the realization that ultimately the charms won't work.

I hope to make peace with the idea of death sometime before it happens, but in the end it doesn't really matter either way. Ready or not, it will come...