Richard Robinson's
'An Atheist's Values'
Donita Klement

Sex is dangerous. Let us begin by admitting and realizing that. There is the obvious danger of producing a child that is not wanted or cannot be cared for. There are several less obvious but grave dangers, including emotional fixations that make for misery, uncontrollable and brutal desires, frustration or starvation leading to emotional illnesses and vulgarization. An hour of sexual intoxication can make a lifetime of misery for more than one person, much as an hour of alcoholic intoxication can make a murder.

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Wednesday, May 03, 2000 5:36 AM

I am not sure what Robinson meant. I do know that he wrote this in the early 1960s, before the so-called sexual revolution. Not all material posted on our site reflects opinions that we are ready to defend -- or opinions that even understand, in some cases. We put this material up as food for thought or because it contains some ideas that we think people might find useful. In some cases, we have posted material that we flat-out disagree with, sometimes simply to see if we are the only ones. Then we post comments in our "Letters" section.

As for Robinson's book, it came highly recommended by several authors that we like. It is also very hard to find. Finally, we found much of the book to be very useful in discussing and forming a personal ethic, and in unraveling some of the mish-mash that passes for theistic morality.

Nevertheless, much can be said about the consequences of acting out sexual passion without having first developed for oneself a sexual ethic. One hour of sexual passion, acted out with a willing 17-year-old (who claims she is 20), and trusting her claim that she is on the pill (when she isn't) could spell the end of a man's freedom -- not to mention his career, his family situation, his reputation, and any number of things that I personally would esteem more highly than sexual satisfaction. The same holds true for drinking: one kid in Oregon got 26 years because he drove drunk and wiped out two families. After the trial, the newspaper did a five-day front-page series on the case.

As for "uncontrollable" desires, I do not think there is such a thing in anyone except those who ought to be institutionalized. This is my argument against the Twelve Step position of addicted people being "powerless." True, it takes effort and fortitude to resist some temptations. I should know: I am in constant pain and the temptation to go ahead and be on narcotic pain medication at all times is tempting. However, I know the likely consequences of long-term use of narcotics (particularly the thinking that resembles a conditioned reflex), so when I take them at all, I take them for three or four weeks and then endure pain for a few months before I will consider going on the meds again.

"Vulgarization" is clearly a value-laden term, and I cannot pretend to know what he means by it without either speaking with Professor Robinson or reading some of the correspondence that led to and followed the publication of his book.

I cannot consider this response complete without mentioning that rape is a form of brutalization that is staged in a sexual setting. It can cause people to completely lose touch with their sexuality (even though the rape itself is a form of violence and ought never be seen as sex). After having been in several failed relationships, and noticing that each woman I dated had been raped or abused, I began to support the men against rape movement.

Perhaps Professor Robinson was thinking about bona fide mental illnesses, and surely he was using a less complete understanding of mental health than is available today. A lot of what we know about mental health has changed since the 1950s and 1960s. For example, Albert Ellis once wrote a book on how to use Rational-Emotive Therapy (RET -- now called Rational-Emotive-Behavioral Therapy or REBT) to cure homosexuality -- and Ellis was once the poster boy for the notion that religiosity was a form of mental illness. Ellis has since changed his tune on both homosexuality and religion, but he once expressed both opinions in published works.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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