Tag Archives: religion

Today: 10 Years

Today my partner and I celebrate 10 years together.  10 wonderful years filled with travel, food, and amazing friends and family.  Most people who look back on a decade of a relationship tend to say, “We’ve been through good times and bad times.”  But I have a hard time pinpointing any bad times along the way.  Sure, we’ve struggled financially.  We’ve been in a small handful of arguments (mostly over what colors to paint the house).  We’ve faced layoffs, deaths in our families, my coming-out to my family at age 34…  But I can’t classify any of these as “bad times.”

Most people mark their anniversary from the date they got married.  We can’t do that, because it’s against the law for us to get married, both in the state where we live, and in the country we call home.

I tend to speak with a fair amount of reserve when it comes to political and religious issues, and I don’t address my sexuality very often.  I know I have many, many fans who are uncomfortable thinking or discussing or reading about this issue.

Christmas Kiss

But as this is my 10th anniversary, I do hope you’ll take a moment to truly consider what I have to say in this blog entry.  Close your doors, turn off your phone, and tune in.  Wrestle with this.  Don’t let your pastor or your spouse or your political affiliation make this decision for you.  Make up your own mind.

Perhaps the most common argument against gay marriage is that marriage is a religious institution.  More than 3/4ths of Americans identify themselves as Christian, whether they are affiliated with a church or not.  Yet we permit Muslims, Buddhists, and even atheists to marry, provided they are of opposite genders.  Some Christian denominations bless the union between loving same-sex couples, and allow members of the clergy to be openly gay, but the majority do not.

As someone who grew up in a devoutly Christian home, and who was educated at a Christian university, I find any Christian who condemns homosexuals to be quite confusing.  The root of Christianity is Christ.  The foundation of all Christian religions is the sacrifice and teachings of Jesus.  And while the current translation of the Bible may, indeed, condemn homosexuality, ANY legitimate Biblical scholar will tell you they are quite dubious about how accurately those passages are translated.  Regardless, the majority of what the Bible has to say about gay people is from the Old Testament, which also condones slavery, polygamy, divorce, genocide, and the list goes on and on.  Most religious institutions tend to take broad lessons from the Old Testament, rather than wielding selective scriptures as daggers in favor of this or that cause.  The New Testament has far fewer references to gay people, and Jesus never spoke a word about it.  (Paul, on the other hand, who was never married himself, yet doled out a nearly infinite amount of advice on marriage, was, in fact, a lawyer who made his living interpreting the laws from the Old Testament, so he naturally had an affinity towards the Old Law which Jesus, in fact, came to replace with a new law:  love.)  Jesus spent his time with the outcasts of society.  He dined with prostitutes and placed his hands on people afflicted with leprosy (VERY much against Old Testament law).  He preached inclusion and love.  He gave us only two laws, and they both say the same thing: “Make every decision in your life from a position of love…love for yourself, for your neighbor, and for your God.”

Coyote Buttes

And so I get quite confused when I hear Christians scrambling to deny gay people the supreme expression of love that two humans can share: marriage.  To deny them that would be as unthinkable as denying them the supreme expression of love that a human can have with his God: baptism.  There’s not a church in existence that requires someone confess to exclusive heterosexuality before being baptized.

There has been a lot of talk recently about Chick-Fil-A’s verbal (and financial) opposition to homosexuality, and I’ve tried to stay out of it.  But I am infinitely more fascinated by the Christians who have risen up in support of Chick-Fil-A over this issue, and who went out to support them by buying chicken sandwiches and marching in front of stores.  Is that what Jesus would have done?  Picked up a sign and marched in support of exclusion and separation?  Or would he have been off somewhere, on his knees, helping people?  Would it not have been more Christ-like for Christians spend that day in a soup kitchen, at the hospital or nursing home?  Jesus spent so much of his time preaching mercy and going to great (and sometimes illegal) lengths to INCLUDE.  To accept.  To forgive.  To love.  What on earth is all this denial, exclusion, and separation about?  Those are most decidedly NOT Christian values.

Rural Washington

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that being gay is a choice.  At no point in my life did I decide to be gay.  I knew I was gay from the earliest moments of my life, once I was capable of rational thought.  I was born gay.  And if you’re a Christian, that means God made me this way.  I could no more be heterosexual than YOU could suddenly become homosexual.  I am made in the image of God, and this is how he made me.  If you’re more inclined to a scientific understanding of the world, you’ll find that scientific evidence overwhelmingly points to homosexuality as a genetic phenomenon.  And there are as many gay people walking around the planet today as there were 2,000 years ago.  (Well…there are more humans on the planet, but the ratio is about the same.  Roughly 3-4%, according to most studies, though that statistic is far higher in urban areas.)

That may not sound like a lot to you, but it’s 1 out of every 25 or so.  In cities, it’s closer to 1 in 10.  There are as many gay people in this country as there are Asian people.  You have gay people in your extended family, whether you realize it or not.  And some occupations tend to attract a higher-than-average ratio of homosexuals, including teaching and (ironically) the clergy or religious service.  So if you’re a proponent of gay marriage, realize what a significant number of people you are seeking to deny this right.

Canadian Rockies

Some argue that allowing gay people to marry will destroy the sanctity of marriage.  I would argue that divorce is a far greater threat to the sanctity of marriage, and divorce among Christians identically mirrors the divorce rate of the entire country…40-50% depending on which study you look at.  (Strangely, the divorce rate amongst atheists and agnostics is lower than the national divorce rate in most studies.)  If you take a look at countries which have legalized gay marriage, like Canada, Spain and Belgium, you’ll find absolutely no change to the national divorce rate after gay marriage was legalized.

Some argue that gay marriage will make it legal for gay people to adopt children.  (Gay people can already legally adopt children in all 50 states.)  Studies show time and again, though, that kids raised in gay households are no more likely to behave differently or have problems than any other child with a father and mother.  (In fact, some studies show that kids raised by two lesbian mothers have higher self esteem and perform better in school than kids who have a father and mother.)


Then there’s the argument that homosexuality will be championed in schools.  To me, this is a ridiculous argument.  I was taught in 4th grade public school that humans evolved from apes.  But my parents had taught me that God created humans.  Who do you think I believed at that age?  Parents, you have the ability to instill beliefs in your children that they will not shake loose until they are capable of making their own decisions.  If you believe gay marriage is wrong, your kid’s grade school teachers aren’t going to change his mind.  Hopefully, though, you will also teach him tolerance and acceptance, so that he doesn’t end up being violent toward kids who have same sex parents, or teasing and taunting openly gay kids to the point of suicide (which happens far too often.)

Marriage, however, is a covenant between two people which does not largely impact society outside of the family unit.  Your marriage does not affect the marriage of the people living two streets down from you.  Your marriage belongs to you, your spouse, and your family.  (And, if you are so inclined, your God.)  Your marriage will never be threatened by the marriage of two people you don’t know, whether they are male/female, male/male, or female/female.  Your church should NEVER be forced to practice or recognize marriage for anyone, and proponents of gay marriage are not asking for that.  There are plenty of churches who already recognize and bless same sex unions, and some gay couples are not religious and wouldn’t seek the recognition of a church in the first place…though 70% of homosexuals identify themselves as Christian.  (This is according to the Barna Group, which is the nation’s leading organization that studies faith and culture, and most of my statistics cited come from their studies.)


But ultimately, all these arguments, to me, are moot.  Marriage is not about politics or statistics, or even about religion.  Marriage is a deeply personal ritual, and it is about love.  Marriage is something that can’t ever be defined or mandated by anything other than the two people who choose to enter into it.  Marriage is the supreme expression of love between two people.  Why would we ever want to deny that to anyone?  While marriage can most certainly end in divorce, the covenant encourages monogamy, financial and moral responsibility, community involvement…and would our society do anything but benefit from more of this?

The soul…the spirit…has no gender identity.  Gender comes from chromosomes and skin cells in different shapes.  A man doesn’t love his wife solely because of her breasts or her genitals.  A marriage doesn’t last a lifetime because of sex.  Gender and sexuality, when it comes right down to it, have very little to do with a lifelong marriage, and any couple who has celebrated 50 years of marriage will tell you that.  Marriage is about compassion, compromise, selflessness, trust, teamwork, integrity, and most of all…love.

Mauna Kea, Big Island

And to try to make laws that prevent any two human beings from expressing their true love the same way that any other couple can, is downright immoral.

My name is Ben Starr.  I am a gay man.  For 10 years I’ve been in love with Christian Eggers.  Another man.  We are both good people.  We spend a significant majority of our time helping others.  We believe in doing as much good for the world as we can before we die.  And we can do more together than we can alone.  You may not know me personally, but I hope, since you’re reading this, that you FEEL close to me.  That you feel like you understand who I am and what I believe in.

And one of the things I want most in this world is to marry the person I’ve loved for 10 years.  So next time you think about gay marriage…don’t think about what comes from the pulpit on Sunday morning.  Don’t think about polling booths and presidential races.  This issue is NOT ABOUT THAT.


This issue is about me.  I’m a person who tries to make every decision in life based on love and compassion and acceptance and inclusion.  If you are against gay marriage, you are personally wanting to deny it from ME, Ben Starr.  You are wanting to send a clear signal to me, and the man I have loved for a decade, that we are not as human as you.  That we don’t deserve the same loving bond that you deserve.  Putting a human face on a polarizing issue is always the best way to consider it.

Now, as I close, I must turn my thoughts to my partner of 10 years.  Christian, you have been the model of a spouse.  You are selfless, tender, caring, and supportive.  You smile at the things I do that annoy you.  You accept my messiness, my chaotic lifestyle, and the fact that I usually look like a homeless person.  You think before you speak.  You let me be right, even when I’m wrong.  You smile when I fill our house with complete strangers for dinner.  You take care of me when I’m sick, when I’m broke, and when I’m at my wit’s end.  You not only let me be who I am, you encourage me to be who I am.  You are the best husband anyone could ever hope for…and I can’t wait to spend the next decade of my life with you.  The first one has been better than my wildest dreams.


Please, please, please share.  And comment freely and honestly.

The Ethics of Eating Meat

This great debate about meat just keeps on coming, and I couldn’t be more pleased.  I received a remarkable email from a fan who has been vegetarian since age 10, and I’d like to share a portion of it:

“The ethics of meat eating have been on my mind since I spent five weeks in rural Ecuador working with a water NGO at the beginning of the summer.  I was staying with a host family and eager to experience the culture and help out around the home, which, one Sunday after the weekly meant helping pick out, slaughter, and pluck a rooster for dinner.  (You can see my host brother with the rooster in the picture.)  I then had the honor of burning off the tougher parts of the skin which was a little bit of a harrowing experience at times when bits of it caught on fire.  I confess – I found the whole thing pretty unsettling.  The rooster didn’t seem terribly happy about the whole process, and if anything, the experience strengthened my resolve to be a vegetarian.  I know people refer to it as the animal “sacrificing itself” but the animal didn’t really have any choice or agency in the process.

So here’s my question: It’s so rare to hear from someone like you who actually kills their own livestock and I would love your perspective on why you think it’s ethical to eat meat.  You seem to have thought so much about the issue, and I really think you could add richness to my (and many other people’s) understanding of the other side of the debate.  In your last blog post, you mentioned that people have eaten meat for thousands of years.  But people have done lots of things for much of history — some good (agriculture, moral taboos against murder) and some bad (lack of women’s rights, lack of gay rights, lack of all kinds of minority rights, slavery), so time alone doesn’t make it ethical.  You also said that some animals would have gone extinct if we didn’t breed them, but just breeding or creating something doesn’t mean we have a right to kill it and eat it (as by that logic alone, parental cannibalism would be justified :P).  So can you talk more about the deeper issues of animal consciousness and rights and whatever else you think helps define the moral issues for you?  I know it would help broaden my worldview and I think it would help many other people too.”

Alyssa, thanks so much for sharing this story.  And, alas, I wish I could tell you that I’m as eloquent a philosopher as I am a writer.  But any debate on “ethics” or “morals” always ends up in a battle over what “ethics” or “morals” means in the first place.  And, to be honest, I don’t really know if there’s any possible way to define ethics or morals across any group of humans, much less the entire span of the human race.  Ethics and morals can truly only be embraced and embodied in a single individual.  Religions may claim to unite their followers under a single body of morals and ethics, but they never do.  Plenty of people in the religion I was raised in still believe it’s not right for a woman to speak in church, or for her to ever contradict her husband, but the majority have more progressive views.  Ethics and morals can only be defined by an individual, for an individual.  And that’s the outer-most boundary of any moral or ethic.  Laws can claim to spring from “universal morals” but I still don’t believe there is such a thing.  I think, under certain circumstances, it is moral to end the life of a human (ie euthanasia).  So the most popular “universal moral” of it being immoral to kill, isn’t, in fact, a moral that is universally applicable.

There are many ways to look at the meat eating issue.  One way is to say that, in nature, the food chain exists, and animals eat what their instincts drive them to.  Lions eat meat.  Cattle eat grass.  Dogs eat whatever they come across, like bears, but will kill live food if they are hungry and can’t find sustenance in berries or plants.  Our ancestors were hunter/gatherers.  They hunted meat, and they gathered edible plants from the wild.  It is in our nature to eat both meat and plants.  The dawn of civilization occurred when humans discovered they could cultivate BOTH animals and plants.  Had such rich animal protein sources not been available, the human race might have fallen extinct like our evolutionary ancestors did.  So, at least historically speaking, humans have eaten meat throughout the entire duration of our existence and evolutionary development.  Some vegetarians like to suggest that the biology of the human body is actually not “designed” to eat meat, because we don’t have pointed teeth like most carnivores, etc..  For every legitimate argument they present, there is a legitimate counter argument on the opposite side.  There is no conclusive scientific evidence that humans are biologically programmed to eat meat or not.  Regardless, for the entire duration of our existence, we have eaten meat.  And as a result of this, we have sheep, pigs, goats, cows, chickens, and a handful of other animals which had a genetic predisposition toward being domesticated.

That phrase alone is enough for me to justify eating meat for myself.  The vast majority of animal species on earth are not fit for domestication.  It would never be POSSIBLE to domesticate them.  But for a handful of animals, domestication happened almost spontaneously.  And whether you take a scientific outlook or intelligent-design outlook on our origin, both routes seem to point quite clearly at the fact that these creatures were meant to be domesticated as meat animals, either through the hands of a creator, or through the probability and adaptability that governs the theory of evolution.  A sheep may be able to provide wool for fabric, but at the end of its natural life, it has a rich source of life-giving protein that would be disrespectfully wasted if it was buried or cremated.  Of course, the carcass could be left for scavengers, but then we’ve upset the “natural balance” of things by providing unnatural excess for scavenging species, which will overtake local populations.

These domesticable species came into existence because we needed them for food and other purposes.  (And let’s not forget that ALL meat animals are utilized in many ways other than meat…chickens give eggs and feathers, cows give leather and their bones are used for fertilizer, etc.)  Should we have domesticated them in the first place?  Had we not, we may not, in fact, be here today.  Should we continue to domesticate them now that we have “evolved” and can make a moral choice to not eat meat?  What responsibility do we then bear for these species which would have no place in the wild without human husbandry?  Do we allow their entire species to die out from natural deaths?

This brings up another argument that vegans often tout…  We have progressed as a species to the point where we no longer NEED animal products to sustain the human race.  There are arguments on both sides of this fence from far wiser people than me.  While it’s true that it requires many, many pounds of vegetable calories to raise a pound of meat…and that many humans could be sustained (though perhaps not richly sustained) on that same amount of vegetable matter, rather than utilizing it for meat production to feed a far fewer number of humans…meat is a source of nutrients that is unmatched by anything outside the egg, which technically is also meat.  Some like to tout quinoa and hemp seed as the miracle foods that can provide the same complex amino acid base that gives meat its complete protein, and can therefore be a nutritional substitute for meat.  However, I cook extensively with both quinoa and hemp seed, and can vehemently say that to take my entire protein content from quinoa, hemp, and various beans does not result in a rich quality of life…TO ME.

Which is leading to my final point.  Yes, humans have progressed and advanced in many ways.  We are sentient and can make decisions governed by things which can be called morals and ethics.  We can also experience a higher level of pleasure and satisfaction than can our animal counterparts.  We love in a more complex way.  We take pleasure in things like art, literature, and food.  And for us to fulfill our own maximum potential as a species, I believe it is our duty to further these things to their own maximum potentials.  We must continue to write.  We must continue to create art and music and dance and theatre and film.  And we must continue to further the culinary arts.  It is our duty to, because we have the capacity to, as no other species on earth does.

A chicken’s potential, as a species, is not to be a companion, like a cat or a dog.  It can’t be potty trained.  It is insufferably and adorably stupid.  But it has the maximum potential to live as a chicken naturally lives: free of a cage, eating what it can scavenge, mating, laying eggs, roosting in trees at night, and providing a food source for coyotes and raptors and humans.  And as a provider of crude protein with both its meat and its eggs, and well as being a facilitator of the development and advancement of the culinary arts, the chicken’s maximum potential is to sustain life on a larger scale and a higher order.  A tiger’s maximum potential is to live unmolested in the forest, hunt for its food, and continue to balance the natural ecosystem.  In comparison, a chicken has a far greater potential in this universe than a tiger.  And not to help the chicken achieve that potential is, in my opinion, immoral.

No, I do not believe animals are “equal” to humans.  If given the choice, I will preserve the life of a human child over a young animal any day.  Animals are a lesser order of life on this planet.  Yet we have the ability as humans to help them fulfill a far greater destiny and contribution to the universe than just existing and dying, un-utilized by us.  We have the power to cram them into cages, torture them, kill them and eat them.  But this is an evil and irresponsible choice.  We have the power to give them a natural life that allows them to fulfill their natural potential, and then die…in order to fulfill a potential far greater than their own existence in the first place.  And this is the moral choice.  To ignore them as a species and their potential to be utilized to advance and enrich human life on earth is, in fact, immoral to me.

The death of an animal sustains life on a higher order.

To me, the world could not be any more beautiful and perfect, simply because of that.  It does not sadden me that meat animals are killed to sustain our life.  That is, in fact, their purpose.  Were it not, a chicken would be like a sparrow or a leopard…incapable of domestication.  The chicken’s evolutionary path merged with the human’s because that was both our destinies.  And we have sustained and enriched the chicken species far beyond what it ever could have in nature, had it not offered us a domesticable, rich source of food to sustain life for us.  Were it not for the chicken, our species might never have survived.  Were it not for the chicken, our species would definitely have never THRIVED.

I see no moral drawbacks to the eating of meat, provided the animal it came from lived a life that allowed it to fulfill its nature.  And its penultimate nature is to take its place on the food chain and sustain a higher form of life.  To me, this is, in fact, living in harmony with our planet.

I would absolutely love to hear what you all have to say on this matter, please comment below.  And for further reading, the New York Times hosted an essay contest on the ethics of meat eating, and the essays can be read at this link.

I also highly recommend the works of Michael Pollan, a food journalist, and Joel Salatin, a farmer.  (Both can be ruminated upon in Polan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, where he spends a good deal of time at Salatin’s farm.)