The evil twin

I have an identical twin brother. Our parents treated us equally, though I would say he was given more the vibe that he was the business one, and I was the creative one. We went to the same small Christian school from fourth grade through high school, and then the same small Christian liberal arts college where we shared adjoining dorm rooms all four years. He dated one girl all through college and married her the year out. I dated several and then also married the girl I happened to be dating at the time, a year out from college.

During college, I rarely attended church and worship services unless they were required. (We had a quota of worship services we had to fulfill each quarter. I also worked as the church custodian, if being present by cleaning it counts!) My brother attended more services, but not consistently. After college, my wife and I attended church about once every month or two. It was more of a social thing, because I had already by that time turned about 50% agnostic -- I thought God probably existed, but the God of my fundamentalist upbringing was inconsistent with what I could see in the world. I was grappling with trying to figure out just who this God figure was if he wasn't who I'd been raised to see.

Meanwhile, my brother's wife had become the sole teacher in a one-room Christian school, and she played the organ. The church was about 50 people, and with her being the teacher and knowing all the families, they quickly became leaders in the church. My brother even began preaching.

After a year of looking like a momma's boy while working with gangsters in '89-'90, I tried to find myself through the study of music in San Francisco. That then led me into the silicon valley doing music recording software development. Maybe it was that liberal cosmopolitan air, but I became more open to other people and lifestyles during that time. Then my wife and I divorced. No kids. Call it a starter marriage. We both realized we made for great roommates, but that life could probably be more. (And while we were the ultimate ones that made the decision to get married, we recognized the culture we were brought up in that pushes you to use college to find a Christian spouse certainly had an effect on our actions.)

You really can't go through a divorce without coming to terms with who you are and what you need. It was during this time that I used the term "atheist" to describe myself. It felt dirty, embarrassing, and most of all, empty. The decision to turn atheist at this time, socially, was stupid. Divorce feels lonely. It's easy to imagine yourself alone and unlovable forever, so why not turn to God who is love? Why not find a nice church girl to start a family with? After all, what would my options be in an atheist woman? Having not met too many atheist women, I had no idea what I was committing myself to by choosing atheism for myself and also demanding it of some (hopefully) future spouse. I don't think marriages can really work when the religions are different.

And that's one point I want to make. With my divorce, I was not in a marriage that constrained my decision to choose atheism. Certainly my ex-wife, because she operated rather agnostically herself, could have permitted me to pronounce my atheism, but had she been more devout and our relationship more permanent, then I probably would have played along going to church, enjoying Christian friends, and hearing the messages. I would imagine the kids (if they were to have come along) would also have practiced. But because I was unencumbered, I took a rather objective approach to the theology, and even though I wanted to believe, I could not (and still can't) make a theology fit. I am not bitter about my religious upbringing. Certainly I can recognize a lot of petty, ridiculous things from the past, but my parents, friends, teachers, and preachers were all operating with generally good intent. It's just for me, it's speculation that is often contradictory or false and I won't build an ideology and try to coerce my children into believing what I myself doubt. I'm not a good liar.

Of course I was naive about atheist women. I found a pediatrician who is all about helping underserved and uninsured kids who finds me lovable and loving. Shortly after we were married we went to S. America to do some volunteer work. That as well as other travels made me realize the tiny culture I was born into that proclaimed it had received The Truth was ignorant and pompous, a dangerous combination. And it made me see every other religion operating similarly. So, a broad exposure to culture can also be a support to atheism.

My interest in biology also started around my choice to become atheist. Because biology and evolution was the straw that finally deconverted me, it is also where I turn to fill the gap left by the hole that God-belief used to fill. Maybe you want to call it a false God, but evolution has obviously given rise to life, our behaviors, our cognitive capacities, and our emotions. When asking about the meaning of life, why not study life? The more I understand the roots of these things, like good science does, the more questions it raises, but the quest is what it is about. The same dynamic applies to God. The more you dive in, the more questions you have, and the prominent ideas of how the redeemed might spend eternity is that they keep discovering God.

This is where my brother and I have diverged. He turns to the Bible for everything, and he can find support. His social circle is his church family. He lives in a semi-pastoral setting surrounded by churches and Republican banners. He started a business 15 years ago that employs a lot of Christians and where charitable giving is a mantra (each of his 80 employees gave over $1000 last year to charity). He sold his business this year putting him into the category known as the ultra-rich. From his vantage point, his success in business and his happy social relationships with everyone he is surrounded by, is attributable to Christ, and evidence of the pleasures you get living the Christian lifestyle.

I used to be utterly confused at how my brother and I could be so different. We still laugh at many of the same jokes and approach things in the same way. He's even analytical and logical, but like the presuppositional arguments discussed recently at Cliff's blog, the butterfly effect for me resulted in changing my presuppositions. Alternatively, he's found more validation and has become more fundamentalist than the way we were raised.

You might say there is a twin thing going on where we struggle to be different from each other. Maybe we do. We have the closest thing that anyone can have in playing the "what if" game, wondering what our lives would be had we taken alternative paths. Given the same choice, one of us (usually him) could always evaluate the effects of whichever one of us was first to respond (usually me) before also responding. I think my brother saw my experimentation and thought he'd be better off towing the line. Now as a 41-year old student with a couple of kids who still doesn't know how I'll find a job in this economy when I'm finally finished, and what I'll really be when I grow up, it can be discouraging seeing the success and self-actualization of my identical twin, but then I realize, I'm self-actualized, too. Given particular sets of circumstances, I charted a path to atheism and the opportunity to be a scientist. I love being part of the discovery of what can be objectively known. I largely lived my brother's life for the first half of it, and it can be fulfilling, but boy is it insulating. There's so much more in a life without God.


Cliff Martin said...


Thank you!

I think I understand your closing statement, There's so much more in a life without God. But I might suggest a variation: There is so much more in life without the constraints of fundamentalism. I believe that in different ways you and I have both experienced that.

Psiloiordinary said...

Wonderful post Tom.

Thank you for your openess.

I know lots of folks who have made money big time. Most just think they deserve it and now have a right o judge others and dispense advice as they see fit.

Atthe risk of being too Gouldian (?) I see good and bad things happening to good and bad people. Luck has far more to do with things like this than most people care to admit.

I do pretty well fit financially myself and I am very much into being "thankful" and really appreciating my good fortune and consciously try not to take myself too seriously. No Cliff I don't mean thankful in the sense of there being someone to thank but more in the sense of really trying to understand that I could easily be starving to death in Africa or under a dictators boot in many other parts of the world.
I envy your courage in changing your career plans.

I have just about decided that I am going to do a part time science degree over the next few years with a view to being a science teacher before I retire.

Best regards,


Tom said...

Just to be clear, I am sure my brother does not feel he deserves or has entirely earned his wealth. He took the gamble of starting his own business, and he is proud of how he has grown it, but at the same time, he is surprised at how much other companies were willing to pay for it. He sees the buyout as a gift from God, of which he is thankful, and he has set aside 50% of his "treasure", as he calls it, for charity.

As an aside, while I was typing this post, I noticed more of a trend that I've pondered before. I made the comment that I experimented and my brother rarely did. As a simple example, I've sported different expressions of facial hair and numerous hairstyles, including even perms at the beginning of high school! He hasn't changed his hair style since 8th grade! (I'm even growing a mustache and goatee now for Halloween -- my wife is Sarah Palin and I'm first dude).

What I noticed in my post, perhaps a bit more overtly than before, is my tendency to waffle with his tendency to persist. I'm driven. I work hard. But if you look at my CV, I'm all over the map. Perhaps I'm too casual, getting married to my first wife because, well, it seemed like it was the thing to do, then got divorced because we didn't have enough stick-to-it-iveness, even though we weren't making each other unhappy by any means. I've started several disparate career paths while my brother just persisted with his company (insurance referral, which seemed rather boring to me). I dated a lot. He had few girlfriends.

I'm not asking for a psych analysis here. My point is that our subjective experiences indicate that a positive feedback loop exists between being less experimental and conservative, or the converse, that more experimentation leads to liberalism, which leads to more experimentation.... Both modes therefore become self-fulfilling prophecies, in opposite directions, from some small butterfly effect. It's sort of like the surprises you get at high school reunions, I guess.


Psi, I would bet you would be quite effective at conveying your love and knowledge of science to others, generating an understanding and curiosity in them. Good luck!

Psiloiordinary said...

Thanks Tom,

Just remember that psych analysis is not really science, and that your perfectly rational self analysis is also rationalisation.

One example (One life) does not make a case.

"I did this dance and then it rains."

So don't be hard on yourself.

Sometimes things just happen.

- - -

I fear that my reading between the lines and not giving your brother full credit, says more about me than about your piece - thanks for clarifying.

- - -

As it happens I spent quite a bit of time talking with my eldest son yesterday and ended up giving him books by Sagan, Dawkins, Dickens, Asimov, Clarke, Banks etc. etc.

It felt really good.

Best Regards,