Good Reason

It's okay to be wrong. It's not okay to stay wrong.

Category: relationships (page 2 of 2)

Shared parenting is optimal

Nice to see this article about a successful co-parenting situation.

SEAN BROGAN is ”enormously proud” of what he and his ex-wife, Ayela Thilo, have achieved for their family.

Divorced for nine years, they share custody of their three children, Arielle, 17, Sienna, 13, and Oliver, 11, in a ”week on week off” arrangement.

Mr Brogan agreed with the findings of the Shared Care Parenting Arrangements study that shared custody is positive for both parental satisfaction and children’s wellbeing.

”In a funny kind of way it has given the kids a sense of stability,” he said. ”They know where they’ll be at any given time, if they’ve got something coming up they see whether they’ll be with mum or dad and talk to that person about it.”

The arrangement has also improved his relationship with Ms Thilo by increasing co-operation and joint decision-making.

”We were determined to make it work for the children,” he said. ”It has certainly healed any rift we might have had. We talk regularly, we talk about school things. Another upside is that it allows the non-custodial parent time out in their week off and time to do all the things they want to pursue.”

It’s in the news because of a recent report evaluating shared care arrangements since 2006 (PDF). At that time, a new emphasis was placed on shared parenting arrangements, rather than custody.

Among the findings of the study:

This research confirms that children‘s wellbeing is optimised under certain circumstances:

  • Parents are able to cooperate about the arrangements for the children
  • Parents have a say in making decisions about the child
  • There is relatively little conflict between the parents
  • Parents believe that each parent is paying their fair share of the costs associated with raising children.


Overall, this research paints a relatively positive picture of shared care in terms both of parental satisfaction and children‘s wellbeing. However, it remains only a relatively small minority of parents who can share the care of the children and fewer still manage to sustain it for a substantial period of time.

I’m firmly of the opinion that a good divorce between people who are genuinely concerned about their kids and who are determined to share the parenting is far less damaging for kids than an intractable, conflict-filled marriage. I may be one of the lucky ones, but this kind of arrangement has worked well for me and my boys, who are so far thriving under the care of both their loving parents.

It’s a big ask. It requires parents to work together at a time when their will to do so may be at its weakest. But perhaps knowing that this setup is good for children would help parents to muster the ability to make shared parenting work when staying married doesn’t.

Why I am not an Anti-Mormon

In recent weeks, the term ‘Anti-Mormon’ has been applied to me. I think this is a mislabeling. I’m not ‘an anti-Mormon’. Here’s why.

1. I’m not anti-Mormon in particular, I’m anti-Every-Religion. I take a contrary view on all religions because they’re non-empirical systems. They get their data not from real-world observation, but from revelations. Maybe something good can come from that once in a great while, but it ain’t knowledge. Science leads to knowledge.

2. The label ‘Anti-Mormon’ is used by Mormons to dismiss critical arguments instead of dealing with them. ‘Oh, you’re anti.’ There. Done. It’s usually assumed that the ‘anti’ is irrationally and implacably ‘anti’, and…

3. I’m not. I’m critical of religious views (Mormon and otherwise) up to the very second that they offer evidence for their claims. In most cases they can never do this because the claims aren’t falsifiable (like ‘god exists but he’s hiding from you’). But I’m still open to evidence on the claims that are falsifiable.

My duty as a critical thinker is to keep the door open. Which is why I do this blog. Anyone can come and provide the evidence that will change my mind. And I’ll do it. I’ve changed my mind before, you know. I will go wherever the evidence leads. But it’s not leading there.

When a loved one can’t accept your non-acceptance of god

It’s not often that I bother with proto-arch-evangelist Billy Graham, but on this particular Sunday his article seemed appropriate:

What to Do When a Loved One Rejects God

The correct answer is, of course, to congratulate them on their clear-headed reasoning skills, and offer support for the sometimes tough deconversion process that follows. And thank Zeus that they’ll no longer be trying to evangelise you, with that hopeful but concerned expression that loved ones often wear when they consider the state of your hypothetical soul.

But that’s not Billy’s answer.

Q: Our college-age son says he doesn’t believe in God anymore. We talk about it some (mainly when we’re trying to get him to go to church), but we always end up arguing. How can we convince him that he’s wrong? – Mrs. A. McC.

Gotta love those assumptions. I suppose a bit of evidence is out of the question.

A: In all honesty, you probably can’t convince your son that he’s wrong right now – because he’s probably not willing to admit that he might be. Hopefully, some day, he will be open to changing his beliefs – but right now, he isn’t.

Well, not willing to admit you might be wrong isn’t a good thing, that’s true. This ad appeared on the same web page, which gives you some idea as to how eager these folks are to allow that their beliefs could be mistaken.


I’d like to pose the question from the opposite perspective: what to do when a loved one accepts God, but won’t leave you alone about it? In which case, my answer would match Mr Graham’s answer to the letter.

I don’t mind if my family stays religious. I’m certainly not trying to deconvert anyone — I’m happy for them to do as they please. (If someone finds themselves not believing any more, but they don’t know what to do about it, that’s another story.) I don’t even mind if people in my family (or anyone else) want to talk about religion to me; it’s actually one of my favourite topics. I wish they’d bring it up more! Just as long as they know that when they do, they know they can expect a factual and straightforward response.

I’ve just received a message from a loved one who I’ve known for years, who’s still in the LDS Church. Here’s an excerpt, emphasis in original:

I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church.

No, you’re merely certain.

I also know that you and Miss Perfect love one another and would want to be married and sealed for all eternity.

That would be lovely, if eternity were on offer. I wonder if anyone else can offer eternity on slightly better terms, perhaps without threatening me with eternal consequences if I don’t obey commandments involving (say) giving them lots of time and money.

In order to do this you need to come back into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sounds simple. So what’s the problem? Equally simple. The LDS Church is untrue — a fact which every non-Mormon already knows. Like all religions, it teaches untrue things. All I ask is that a religion live up to its own hype, and this one doesn’t.

To put a finer point on it, the doctrines of the LDS Church (and every religion I’ve ever run across, which are myriad) fall into exactly three categories:

  1. Teachings that are unconfirmed by evidence, like the existence of supernatural beings, an afterlife, and so on
  2. Teachings that have been refuted by evidence, e.g. ancient Americans are Hebrews who spoke a form of Egyptian, rode horses, and smelted steel
  3. Teachings that are more or less true, but which were already known by people without any revelation being necessary. For example, Mormons are fond of claiming that the Word of Wisdom is revolutionary, especially about smoking. But the anti-tobacco movement was getting started around the 1830’s, about the same time as the temperance movement, and could have been familiar to people in that area.

(Naturally, if anyone thinks I’m wrong, and knows of a religion with doctrines that do not fit into these three categories, please mention them in comments.)

It’s especially hard for family members to deal with your deconversion. Spouses, parents, siblings — they all want you to be happy, and they’ve been told you can’t be if you’re outside the religion. My old religion pretended to be able to keep families together after death, dependent on you staying in the system. Which basically means that you’re threatened with eternal isolation if you leave. This is a despicable tactic for religions to use. If I were feeling nasty, I might call it emotional hostage-taking. It makes it impossible for family members to have emotional boundaries — they think your choices will affect them for eternity.

So it’s hard for me to feel upset with caring people who try to evangelise me. I’m just glad that, as someone who accepts rationality, I’m no longer prone to the kind of worry that they feel.

Gay marriage and the slippery slope

My conservative religious family thinks I’m nuts for my stand on gay marriage: I think it’s fine. Wait, that sounded normal. At least, normal to an increasing number of people. There’s been nearly four years of gay marriage already, California just became the latest state to allow it, and what with society not collapsing, fire not raining down from heaven, and more pressing problems to deal with, it seems the issue just isn’t getting the traction it used to get, as detailed in this article in the Prospect.

In 2004, there were ballot initiatives outlawing gay marriage in 11 states. All succeeded easily. In 2006, there were eight more. But this time, one of them –Arizona’s — actually failed (despite John McCain’s efforts). There is still time for initiatives to be put on the 2008 ballot, but they will likely have a much more difficult time.

With each passing year, straight Americans become more and more comfortable with gay Americans. This doesn’t mean their opinions on marriage are going to be transformed overnight, but it does mean that they will be less susceptible to scare tactics.

I really hope this means we’re seeing the end of the Culture Wars. What an awful time.

My Dad, for his part, used to shake his head when it came to acceptance of Teh Ghey. He loved to quote this poem from Pope:

Vice is a monster so frightful mien, As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet too oft, familiar with her face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

It made sense — we do get more used to things. Isn’t that the way it goes? First it’s allowing them to live. Next, they’re on TV, and soon you might actually know one. Terrible.

But I never thought to ask him: why does it only apply to acceptance of gay people? Why not the reverse? I could just as well say that hatred against gay people could gradually become accepted. First you deny them marriage rights, then the right to own property, and before you know it, it’ll be okay to kill them (as is the case in Saudi Arabia). Why not use this argument against itself? A slope can be slippery both ways.

I recently noticed this truly awful story from India:

Two married women, who allegedly shared a lesbian relationship, committed suicide by setting themselves ablaze after their families tried to separate them. The police recovered the charred bodies of the women, who died hugging each other, from the residence of one of the women at Sathangadu, near Thiruvotriyur, on Saturday.

It’s hard for me to understand what made them take such an awful end to their lives. But I guess I am a straight guy in a tolerant country.

That’s why I take the stand that I do. I want to work toward a world where this kind of treatment of people is not okay. Society has a lot to make up for.

Deconversion stories: Doomsday

Lisa: All through history, self-anointed seers have predicted the end of the world and they’ve always been wrong.

Homer: But sweetheart, I have something they didn’t have. A good feeling about this!

– Simpsons: ‘Thank God It’s Doomsday’

It’s April 6th, the day that Mormon leaders pegged as Jesus’ birthday, way back in AD 1. (How that works with different calendrical systems, I have no idea.) Three BYU professors have pointed out problems with this view, but they were just using the science of men, while not one but two prophets of God have confirmed the April 6th birthday. Take that, uninspired smarty-pants scientists!

And this year, April 6th is even a Sunday. Now I seem to remember that back in the 80s, some Latter-day Saints were handing around Xerox copies (just like they email each other now) that Jesus was going to come again when April 6th fell on a Sunday. They were pushing hard for 1986. I have a very clear memory of being in my girlfriend’s bedroom that morning, suddenly remembering that it was April 6th, and thinking, “If Jesus comes today, I’m toast.” And then 6/4/86 came and went, as it had in 1844, 1914, 1975, and every other year.

I suppose Doomsday is on my mind because of this very sad story:

Cult leader Pyotr Kuznetsov tries suicide after realising he was wrong about doomsday

Would you follow this man into a cave? Some people did. They stayed there for about a month because he’d told them the world was about to end. They’ve been trickling out ever since.

But since the failed prophecy, he tried to kill himself by beating his head against a log. He’s apparently schizophrenic, poor guy, but the religion probably masked the schizophrenia. If a schizophrenic guy says that John F. Kennedy is with him all the time, or that Ghengis Khan is his best friend and constant companion, you get him some psychiatric help. But if he says that Jesus Christ is always with him, he’s just a normal religious guy. It may delay an accurate diagnosis, perhaps until it’s too late. Think this guy’s followers would have spent so much time in a cave if he’d said that James Dean was going to come again soon?

There’s a book called ‘When Prophecy Fails’ by Leon Festinger that figures into the later stages of my deconversion. Back in the fifties, there was this lady who thought she was getting messages from space aliens. (Weren’t we all.) The aliens said that the USA would be destroyed by a massive flood, but that spaceships would rescue those who believed. Festinger et al. infiltrated the group, posing as believers and investigators, to see what would happen when the prophecy failed. Fun, huh? Back in the good old days before ethics committees.

[SPOILER ALERT!]

They found the following:

  1. The leaders regrouped and moved the date ahead, figuring this time it would work.
  2. Strangely, they began to proselyte vigourously, which they’d never done before. One might see an analogy in Christianity.
  3. The people who stayed with the other group members on the weekend after the ‘disconfirmation’ tended to continue with the group. If someone happened to go away that weekend, they didn’t come back.

The book really did a number on my head, I must say. I began to see things about my own faith. I realised that people could have deep belief in absolutely loony and false things, and argue passionately for them. Which I knew, but now I saw myself in that mirror. I also saw that groups use a variety of techniques to keep people believing, like communal reinforcement. And I saw some interesting things about how members may try to usurp power over the group (as happened there), and I reflected on how the LDS church has managed that problem admirably well.

Once I realised that, yes, even I could be wrong about my spiritual ‘impressions’, then it became important for me to be a critical thinker, and to make sure my beliefs were grounded in evidence. And that was the beginning of the end for my religious life. No more doomsday mystics. No more mysticism at all, thank you.

Daniel answers your search queries

I’ve had a gander at the blogstats. People use all kinds of search terms to find this blog, including some questions (e.g. ‘what is good reason in critical thinking’). And it’s often not even questions I treat in blog posts. So as a public service, I’d like to answer the questions that people used to get here, even though it’s too late for them.

where did the phrase ‘take them out to the woodshed’ come from?
The woodshed was where Dad would take you out for a whipping. From Wordcraft:

…to ‘grill’ someone brutally, in private; to subject to no-holds-barred questioning 2. more commonly: to criticize scathingly.
From the image of a pioneer father taking his son “out behind the woodshed” for a serious talking-to, perhaps using a leather strap to emphasize his point.”

would you vote for an atheist
I would, if any vocal atheists would ever run for office. Unfortunately, there seems to be some kind of rule against it. A kind of religious test. Either that, or we’re shy.

does talking about something good jinx it
It may seem that way. But when was the last time you talked about something good and it happened anyway? Can’t remember? That’s because annoying things are easier to remember. So talk about the good things and they’ll happen anyway. Wait — isn’t that how ‘The Secret’ works? Never mind.

reasons couples are good together
This is a tough one. I know lots of reasons why couples are bad together. They usually involve differences in fighting style.

But as of late, I’ve been lucky. I’ve found the Perfect Woman. All of our relationship success I attribute to her kind, patient, and loving nature. I suppose that’s not much help to anyone else, because no one else gets her.

I can tell you that we do have similar styles of conflict resolution. When there’s an issue, we’re able to stay present and listen to each other without feeling (too) threatened. John Gottman describes three things that can happen: couples can ‘turn away’ from each other, or ‘turn against’ each other. Somehow we find it easy to ‘turn toward’ each other and talk about the problem.

are you more likley to be killed by and asteriod or lightning
Actually, no; I’m not. I’m more likely to be killed by irate students.

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