Why sexuality and spirituality belong together

Comedian Pete Holmes details his struggle with faith, sex, and God.

PETE HOLMES: It was the horniness that was the teacher. I thought it was in the way of my teaching. I was like, if I could only stop being horny, I could meditate and I could find God. Fuck that shit. God is in the horniness.

The reason the book is called "Comedy Sex God" is because God and sex were so closely linked for me. When I was a kid, I wasn't tempted to lie or cheat or steal, or certainly not murder anybody. Those were all very easy ordinances from the church to follow because I wasn't tempted to do them. But sex, it's a biological, pulsing, organically occurring, fresh-batch-every-morning temptation that all these 12, 13, 14-year-olds were being told was the thing, the sin, that was keeping God, basically, from loving us. You know what I mean? We were all good to go to heaven, but three, sometimes four times a day, you're very tempted. Or in my case, I would succumb succumb! to temptation, and I felt terrible about it because that was my understanding of God.

And one of the reasons I wrote the book was to try and reform that understanding of God as this like, basically a bully, as Nadia Bolz-Weber says, with a killer surveillance system who's watching you and who really hates you. He hates what you are and wishes that Richard Rohr calls it willpower Christianity, it's like we can just push these giant boulders away and lean on them, and be at church and be like, "Hey, brother!" But really, you're as human as anybody, and that is a cognitive and spiritual dissonance that is a heavy, heavy weight. So I joke that the book is called "Comedy Sex God", but most of the sex is with myself because it was so internalized and it was so shameful and private. So when I lost my faith because my wife here's sex again: My wife had an affair. So sex, again, betrayed me. I was trying to be a good boy and I got married almost so that I could have sex, so I was playing by the rules. And then she broke the rules. But even worse, it felt like God, who was almost like the mafia -- I paid him a fee to watch my bakery, if that makes sense, and then somebody threw a brick through my bakery window. And I was like, 'You didn't hold up your end of the bargain.' So I lost my faith, and then I really had to redefine what sexuality was. It was almost like coming out of the closet as straight. I'm not trying to minimize how serious and how difficult it can be to come out of the closet as gay, but I had to announce to myself and to the world: "I like boobies." And that was hard because you were waiting for lightning to strike you down.

So the wonderful thing that I've discovered about the universe we don't have to call it God because I understand and sympathize that that's a loaded word but I see a universe that uses these wounds and these traumas and these wrong programs in our favor, ultimately. So I spent all this time, first, repressing my sexuality. Then I lost my faith. Then I went through a period of embracing it as best as I could. I bought the Playboy that I hid in my bedroom in a chair that used to belong to my grandmother. I cut a slit in the lining of that chair and I hid this Playboy that I had stolen with my friend, Opie. So that was two sins, really. And then when I lost my faith, I bought that Playboy on eBay and put it on my coffee table, because I knew that my psyche needed symbols. I was trying to outwardly manifest a world where I wasn't ashamed of being a sexual person. So like a swinger or like Burt Reynolds, I just kept or a barbershop just open air pornography, which was partially healing.

And then I tried having anonymous -- or casual -- anonymous is not true; I knew their names and they knew my name, so it wasn't anonymous. And I didn't have sex with a group of renegade hackers wearing scary masks. I was just having sex with people that I had no intention of marrying, which, if you can believe it, was a huge undertaking for me. So I thought that was healing myself.

But as I talk about in the book, there was a third step, which was I had to learn to irrationally love myself, and that that is the sort of love that, I believe, is coming from the universe or coming from God, whatever image you'd like to use, as indiscriminately as the light. So I went on this retreat to see Ram Dass, who's this spiritual teacher, he wrote "Be Here Now". And I went into I was on a private, basically, a hermitage, living in his guesthouse. But I was alone most of the time. And it was wonderful. I had this incredible transcendent experience sitting with him. I was hallucinating, which is fucking crazy and awesome. Even while it was happening, I was like, "It's happening, I'm having a mystical experience!" But then I would go back to the house, and in the morning sometimes or at night, I would get 10 out of 10 horny, hornier than I had been since I had been 15. And there I was, 39 or something, and I was trying to be spiritual. I was trying to meditate, I was burning seven to 10 sticks of incense a day. I was reading sacred texts. And all the while, I'm thinking about jiggling asses and stuff. And I was embarrassed. It was so obvious my Christian, my puritanical shame psychology was still in there. Playboys on the table and casual sex be damned, I hadn't yet opened all the blinders in my soul, for lack of a better word, and let the light in. So I thought it was in the way. I was very tempted to just masturbate and get it over with, which is how I saw sex. I always saw it as not something to enjoy or to respect or to honor or to just participate with, I saw it as something that you wanted to get out of the way so you could get back to being good or being holy or being worthy of love. So there I was on a hermitage, fucking horny. I don't know if people can even remember what it's like to be 15, And you're just like, everything is sex, everything is sex. And I was really tempted to do something about it. I joke in the book, I couldn't look at pornography on my laptop. The password for the Wi-Fi was the name of Ram Dass's guru. So I couldn't type in the name of an other-worldly guru, and then go to fucking, I don't know, XVideos or whatever. I just couldn't do it. It was all coming in my face coming in my face. [LAUGHING] it was all being held right into my face. So I had this moment of surrender and break, where I tried to do what I had been studying and what I had been telling myself. I tried to just love myself irrationally.

People give out this bullshit Kirkland purified water love to each other. It's conditional, it sucks, it's low grade. It's well love, and I want that top shelf premium love. And that really is a thoughtless love. It's a love without a reason. It's not, oh, I'm horny, Pete, I love how human you are or how conflicted you are or how good you want to be or how carnal you are and virile. It wasn't that. That's justifying why you feel the way you feel. I just tried loving it because love is a place, it's like a state that you can enter into, and you just go, everything, just like I said, as indiscriminately as the light, I love this, too. It's not God is over here with the saying frack instead of fuck, and not seeing R-rated movies and being nice. Richard Rohr points out, the word nice is not in the New Testament doesn't exist. We've lost the narrative. We've turned it into a [HEARTY CHUCKLE] and it was never about that. And I wanted to get into that place.

You think think this is a mistake? This, my body, sexuality, the world, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the whole thing is sex. The universe is undulating eroticism, and that's fucking beautiful. It's not a mistake. And spirituality, true connection and flow with the divine, to me, is not a resistance, it's not about looking good or telling people that you didn't jerk off in Ram Dass's hermitage, which I didn't. But the reason I didn't was because I love myself if I did or if I didn't, and it was in that moment that I realized the pain and that embarrassment and that shame wasn't in the way of the teaching, it was the teaching. And I had another just beautiful moment of actually loving myself. Because I realized I had been giving myself that low-grade, bullshit, conditional love. And I realized if you want to feel that from the universe, it starts by giving it to yourself. Not in the way I had intended, but I did give it to myself.

  • Comedian and writer Pete Holmes explains how he lost his faith after a long struggle with what he calls his Christian, puritanical, shame psychology.
  • Holmes found the antidote to internalized shame was 'thoughtless, irrational love'. Love should be as indiscriminate as light, he says. Many people only give conditional love to themselves and others.
  • Sexuality is not a mistake, says Holmes. Pretending to be pure by saying frack instead of fuck, and not seeing R-rated movies and being really "nice" is not what a connection to the divine is about.

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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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