Secrets and Avatars, Part II-SECRETS

In a perfect world, there would be no secrets. There would be no shameful events. The reason that anything becomes a secret is that there is shame associated with it. There would also be no shaming by a greater society for those personal experiences.

I suspect that the most common arena of secrets is in the sexual. The second category is in the area of addiction, which can overlap with the sexual, but mostly involves chemical addictions, including alcohol. There are some that are financial. Then there are many others that would fall into the category of, “If people knew what I had done, they would think less of me, that I’m stupid, not a good friend, or [fill in the blank].”

When I was seeing patients, I had more than one woman confide in me that they had been raped or sexually assaulted. Sadly, that is not surprising. But what did surprise me, that some of them had never told their boyfriends or husbands. While I couldn’t imagine Denise or me keeping such a secret, once the women explained, their secrecy, it made some sense.

These women felt their husbands (can’t remember such a case between a lesbian couple) would be angry and think less of them with the knowledge of their rape. The husband’s/boyfriend’s anger would stem from the deep notion that some other man, forcefully, took something that belonged to them. The wife felt that anger would spill over and they would be blamed for that rape or assault or their husbands or boyfriends would see them as dirty. You know the story, being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Dressing too suggestively, drinking too much, or giving the wrong signals, somehow makes the rape “deserved.”

Once I understood their situation, I supported their secrecy, although at the same time, I was hoping their husbands or boyfriends were more empathetic than they imagined.

There is another area of sexual abuse that goes unreported because of shame, and that is a man who was molested or raped as a young boy, by a man. It is not a surprise—although dreadful—that this has been a scandal within the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America, and more recently, within the Southern Baptist Church. I am a candid person and if this had ever happened to me, I would probably tell you here. I have no filter, by choice. But it hasn’t. Yet, I’ve known of many cases among friends and others.

But this later secret is held in a more secure place than even how the women hide their dark secrets. In my long career, I never remember a male patient confiding in me that they had been sexually assaulted or raped. This intense shame has been the major reason that the Catholic leadership got away with hiding it, as did the Baptists, and Boy Scouts, because the victims were so willing to keep it as a secret.

I’m no Freud, but I suggest that the reason the men being rapped as a boy is so shameful, is deeply tied into their homophobia. Even though the man may have been a helpless seven-year-old when a man raped them, forever they carry the humiliation that they have had “gay sex.” To many hetrosexual men, this is worse than death. This is why armies use rape of prisoners as their greatest form of torture.

I am not being so callused as to suggest that the humiliation and shame associated with being molested or raped as a child by a man is less for the gay man than the heterosexual. I’m just stating that the reason for the hetrosexual shame may be different. But again, I’m no Freud and don’t even play one on TV. But there is enough shame to change the course of life for all of the victims.

The reason I started this journey into secrets, pretentiousness, and avatars is tied to my thoughts about my next novel, tentatively called, Judy Springs. I have a rough draft of the first chapter.

SIDE BAR: My present novel, The Stones of Yemen, has finished its 10-month grueling process of editing with a professional and now we are in the proofreading stage. We are also negotiating with agents to pitch the book to major publishing houses, which is an arduous and humiliating process, regardless of how good your work is. If I go with my own publishing imprint, The Stones of Yemen will be on the market by January. If we are able to close a deal with a big publishing house, then who knows. I do feel encouraged as a few have read the final copy (even without the proofreading) and have given it high marks. I humbly realize that some of my previous works were not of this caliber. But I’ve worked hard to improve my writing. One friend who works in the publishing industry, told me “The Stones of Yemen was the best novel I have ever read.” I wrote this book after hearing on the news about an American-made bomb that was dropped on a Yemeni school bus full of first-grade boys, killing over sixty and having deep thoughts about bereavement as an impetus for peace, and terrorism. If I write Judy Springs, it will be because of my deep thoughts about toxic secrets.

In Judy Springs, I draw a lot from my own childhood, growing up in the Bible Belt of NE Tennessee. It is a story about a dark family secret. While fiction, it draws from real life. As I reflected on the dark secrets I knew about in that village, I realized there was a plethora of them, so many, I have to be careful not to get too close to the factual events.

The Problem with Secrets

I will state again, most secrets are benign and are none of the public’s business. However, some are toxic because they hurt other people or the perpetrator. I want to discuss these toxic secrets for a moment.

Speaking in philosophical terms, rather than religious, I believe that there are problems with toxic secrets from the two extremes of society. On the socially-conservative side, there is an imagined paradigm where they see morals in a hierarchical layering, and each person can move up that hierarchy at will. The expectation is that everyone should live at the high moral marks, which they have determined (falsely) that they live at. If someone is unwilling to abide by this ideal moral standard, then that morality should be legislated on them by the government. However, the “arrived” people, those who feel they are morally superior, have a false appraisal of their own morality and the ease of reaching their concept of an ideal behavior. In this climate of intense moral scrutiny of society, it creates a pressure to hide moral failures, both with the people who don’t subscribe to this moral hierarchy, and more often, among those who do. There is an amazing level of moral pathology that resides quietly in the closets of the houses of the “righteous.”

There is an amazing level of moral pathology that resides quietly in the closets of the houses of the “righteous.”

J. Michael Jones

On the socially liberal side of society, there is a movement away from morality, for the sake of harmony. While seeking harmony or social peace is a noble cause, this particular approach bears some dangerous consequences. It starts with the loss of absolute truth and it goes like this, “All religions or philosophical presuppositions are the same as there is no truth.” While that works for a while, it eventually ends up in the area of ethics or morals. “Whom am I to judge?” While that may be a welcome attitude in a conservative society where moral judgements and condemnations are the rule, when unchecked, it leads to a dead end. Eventually you have no footing to say that racism is wrong, or that rape is wrong, then eventually whom am I to judge if pedophilia is wrong. The loss of absolute truth is the “gateway drug” that leads to moral relativism, which can take a generation to be fully realized.

The loss of absolute truth is the “gateway drug” that leads to moral relativism, which can take a generation to be fully realized.

J. Michael Jones

There is a balance, where the concept of absolute truth is not abandoned, but where tolerance and compassion, as well as a realistic view of morality can produce social peace and mutual respect.

I will close with one of those boyhood stories that has inspired Judy Springs. The number two man at our Baptist church, choir director, adult Sunday school teacher and leader, was a habitual sexual molester and rapist of young boys. Everyone in the church knew about this but never spoke about it beyond whispers in their kitchens. Because this same man was seen as an “idealized Christian man.” He never “cussed [see my previous posts about profanities],” he had perfect church attendance, he didn’t drink alcohol, and he wore suits to church. I know that this sounds bizarre, but the parents looked the other way, because of his goodness. I have no idea how many boys were victims over his 40 years reign at our church. He never got his hands on me, thanks to my mother running interference, but he did my brother. But it was a Christian community taboo to make an issue of his abuse to help maintain the illusion that Christians are better people. I’m not so sure he could have gotten by with his behavior today.

Now imagine that society in the 1960s-70s had less of a social stigma and without its illusion of perfect moral subcultures, then this man Jack, may have been comfortable enough to say to his parents or a friend, “There is something wrong with me. I feel sexual desires toward little boys. I’m afraid I might hurt someone.” Then that parent or friend would help them get the mental health they needed, and the damage to countless little boys would have been averted. Or at least, the first person who knew of this man’s behavior, would have called him out … or called the police. Acting, rather than maintaining the façade of a higher moral society, where bad things don’t happen.

There are people who come to this blog who know whom I am talking about. I will name him, Jack. He is now deceased. But those people who know who I am talking about are probably more angry at me for bringing this up, than they were ever at Jack. You know, it makes Christianity look bad to bring things like this up. That is why the Southern Baptist could be put out of business by lawsuits in the coming years, as the Boy Scouts and Catholic Church, because they were enablers in order to maintain their façade.

My point here is that while many secrets are benign and should be kept personal, some are toxic and damaging and the more people circle their wagons to protect and enable the perpetrators, the more toxic the secrets become.

I read a lot of novels these days, to help my own writing. Many novels center around dark secrets that people carry. One, which was made into a movie, was Pat Conroy‘s The Prince of Tides. In the book, to illustrate my point, a girl’s rape was something the whole family knew about and explained her traumatized psyche. However, it wasn’t until the end that the reader finds out about the protagonist’s (a man) rape as a boy. But it was a great book and a good movie.

A more recent illustration of dark family secrets is the TV series, Greenleaf. It is an extremely well-written and acted story about a family, deeply involved with the business and life of a black, Memphis megachurch, and their dark family secrets.

Mike

The Hermit at Loch Eyre

Secrets and Avatars, Part I

I have been intrigued about personal and family secrets since I was a young boy. Even as a preschooler, I had observed a dissociation between how most people behaved in their private lives and the way they presented themselves to the public, at least in the Bible-belt. Shakespeare expressed it this way, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” While he was writing about the stages of life, you can apply those words to the idea that when we are in public, we are on a stage, doing our best to perform according to society’s expectations. Social media has transformed the grand, live stages into little puppet theaters, where pretense is even easier.

Even authentic people have secrets that no one else knows, and in most cases, there is nothing wrong with that. To prove my point, meditate for a minute about your greatest secrets, things that even your own spouse doesn’t know. It could be as insignificant as how you pick your nose and what you do with your findings. But often there is something in your past, or present, that is in that vault. Often those secrets have no reason to see the light of day. But occasionally, they do. Each person will be the judge of their own secrets. Charles Dickens (one of my favorite writers) wrote about these very private secrets in the beginning of the third chapter of A Tale of Two Cities (below).

A Wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomable water, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses of buried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the book should shut with a a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page. It was appointed that the water should be locked in an eternal frost, when the light was playing on its surface, and I stood in ignorance on the shore. My friend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead; it is the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret that was always in that individuality, and which I shall carry in mine to my life’s end. In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?

I suspect that one reason this issue has been so interesting to me is the fact that I was lucky enough to have had a mother who was profoundly authentic. No filter whatsoever. I think the reason she was that way was she grew up in an isolated life in a Tennessee holler and was forced to drop out of school at age twelve and become a mother to her three brothers. She was socially isolated and never learned the process of performance persona, which is readily taught—by default—on the middle school playground. She never saw the list of social rules, what you can say and what you shouldn’t.

Here’s an example of my mother. I brought a friend home from high school and he had a terrible acne problem. My mother said to him (and she had never met him before), “Honey, your face looks horrible. You need to see a doctor about your pimples because girls aren’t going to want to date you looking like that and the doctor can help you.” Now, of course my friend was greatly embarrassed as was I. However, he was not angry at my mother because he realized that she said what she said because she honestly cared about him. Imagine Dolly Parton with black hair, that was my mother’s persona … hard not to like.

My mother was a reference point to what authenticity looked like and the rest of society, juxtaposed with her character, made pretentiousness stand out to me. I just don’t like it in myself or others. It intrigued me so much, that I got a degree in psychology, and even doubled majored in sociology for a while, just to try to make sense of it.

I would like to explore this idea through several posts. From where I’m sitting now, I see three parts to this issue:

  1. Personal secrets, which most of the time are insignificant. They can become significant like when they are used to hide destructive behaviors.
  2. Pretentiousness, where we pretend that we are as good as we wish we were. This might be just a matter of taste. I don’t like it in myself or others, but by itself, it may be harmless.
  3. Being an avatar is when someone creates such a performance persona that they start to believe in the performance themselves. Caulfield, in the Catcher in the Rye, saw most of society in this light. The term he used was “phonies.”

In 1990, I started a grand experiment. I found myself living within a profoundly pretentious society, “avatarian” in nature. At that juncture, I made a decision to pursue authenticity at all costs. It has been costly, and I’ve failed at this many times.

Where am I going with this thread? One reason is that I’m starting to write three novels. Only one will survive to publication, if any. The one that is lead at this juncture is one about family secrets as many novels are. This novel is set in my boyhood home and draws a lot from my experiences. I am drawing from real life, but to make it a readable novel I have to fictionize the events … but not by much.

Certainly, I am not writing this series of blog posts as a critique of society. I do think a perfect society would not have avatars or even the pretentious, while personal secrets may not be avoidable. But I will discuss situations where even those that are unhealthy. You are welcome to contribute to this conversation.

Mike, Still the Hermit @ Loch Eyre

Footnote:

I received my monthly labs tonight and my cancer markers are once normal. One, called the M-spike (the clearest marker for Multiple Myeloma) has disappeared. This means if I presented in my doctors office today, they would not diagnose me as having Multiple Myeloma. While that might sound like a cure, it is not. MM is very devious and could look like it is gone, but then suddenly reappears. But I am happy with that.

The new chemo program is still kicking my butt. I struggle with fatigue and chills. My anemia keeps me breathless with more than a little exertion. I’m happy with how my cancer has responded. My prayer is that if I continue with such a good remission, they would drop the drug that is causing most of my side effects.

On Writing (and Speaking) Profanities, Part II

When I was in college, the leader of Campus Crusade for Christ, Mack, was a witty, talented man. One of those talents was his quiver of cliches for every occasion. I remember how he would respond to students around him who would say things like, “damn,” “shit,” “fuck,” or “hell,” “Do you eat out of the same mouth you talk out of?” was his familiar, belittling, question.

Profanity Defined

The word profanity is from the Greek word, profanus, which literally meant “In front (or outside) the temple.” From the beginning, it carried religious connotations that it was describing language or words that were secular (non-religious) or worse, against religion. While the concept starts with language that was related to the polytheistic system of the Greeks, it was quickly adopted by Christians and other religious entities to help mark decently. I honestly don’t know if eastern religions have such an attitude toward certain word use. I have a sense that the connotation is not as strong in Islam as it is in Christianity. I heard even devoted Muslims use such intense language if the situation demanded it. But my understanding of Arabic was limited and my have missed the social cues. But I do know that in the Arab world in general, they are more comfortable with the expression of emotions than we are in the West. Therefore, most of my discussion will focus on Western civilization, down to the American perspective, and since Christianity has had such a shaping influence on the morality of this society, much of my discussion will address the Christian perspective. The claim of Christianity is that their views are from the Bible. I disagree and will address that specific claim as well.

My Agenda

Before I move forward, I want to be clear of my purpose in this discussion. I am not addressing the use of profanity with the hopes of persuading people who find such language offensive, to start using it. Good heavens no! At most, I hope to lay out an argument so that those who see certain words as a sign of indecency or sin by the people who use such words, would have a more gracious view of those people. In my argument, I will also make a few bold statements that I expect most people will not agree with. But that is okay. I don’t expect people to agree with me and I still consider them my friends and worthy of my respect. Lastly, I will add that my thoughts on this topic have come from a long period of study and thinking and is not simply off the cuff. I do believe that my views are consistent with those who know the most about these areas, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, and historians. I am a humble learner and if you have evidence that differs from what I claim, I will consider it, but not within the context of a personal argument.

Christian Morality, a Cultural Perspective

I grew up in the Bible-belt. The surface markers of a decent person, were: 1) not using profanities, 2) going to church every Sunday, 3) not drinking alcohol, and 4), not smoking, unless you were a veteran of World War II, then smoking was overlooked.

We Christians often think our morality comes straight out of the Bible. That is not true. Our morality, as well as much of our cultural views, come from a long history of ideas, much of it not found in the Bible. I will boldly claim that most of what we call “Christian” has nothing to do with the Bible. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you know the origins of your views.

I’ve stated before, the hallmark of all subcultures is: 1) defining who is in and who is out, and 2) mores or codes of conduct within the group to determine a ranking of conformity. Christianity is no different than other subcultures. However, religious subcultures take both of these measures much more seriously than, say, the Kiwanis club. For example in Christianity (and I think so in Islam) you are either in or out. If you are out, you are pure evil and hated by God. If you are inside the group, you are loved by God and full of redeeming values. Likewise, the social mores are not just customs (in their eyes) but commands of God. If you do not conform to the mores of the Christian group, such as not saying profanities, you are in sin or disobeying God.

My cultural influence became very clear to me when I was living in a radically different culture than the Bible-belt one in which I was raised. In this new (Egyptian) culture, most of my friends were Muslim and a few were Christian. Even those Christians I did know were from Arab sects, such as Coptic, Eastern Orthodox, Arab-Catholic, and even Druze. Each with profoundly different customs than my background. These Christians had more in common with their Muslim Arab brothers than their American counterparts. To some, chewing gum was considered sin while saying “fuck you” was okay. They (mostly) see Israel as the devil, while American Evangelicals (since the 1970s and the publication of Late Great Planet Earth) see Israel as incapable of doing wrong.

For the first time, I began to see my own culture in layers like a book that has been left out in the rain. Once the books’ pages get wet, they expand and you can start to see the layers (pages) that you could not see before.

The History of Profanities in the Christian World

I love philosophy and I will try to make a statement while avoiding going down a philosophical rabbit hole. When Christianity appeared in the first century, one set of powerful, secular influences was the writing of the Greek philosophers. The main one was Plato. The Christian Gnostics adopted Platonic Dualism as their guiding metaphysical view. In that perspective, there is a sharp division between the seen and unseen. The Church first resisted these ideas, the great Church creeds addressed dualism as it relates to Christ, who is both seen and unseen. However, when Constantine adopted Christianity as the state religion, Platonic Dualism was embraced as a means to power. If the only thing that matters rests in the unseen (heavenly), then all things in the material or seen world become insignificant. In that model, then the Church/emperor has all the power because they control the unseen or spiritual realm.

During this early time, all profanities were likewise confined to the unseen or spiritual. Many of these terms persist until today, but words like “hell” “damn” “goddamit” “Mother of God” “Jesus,” and even “bloody.” “Bloody” is the favorite profanity of the British and Australians. The original, pre-renaissance, term was “The blood of Christ” or “The blood of God.”

This perversion of Platonic Dualism went to seed as the dark ages (if this physical world doesn’t matter, culture dies). The Renaissance delivered Europe from Dark Ages and made the seen (material) important again, bodily functions became the key subjects of profanities, “shit,” “piss,” “fuck,” “dick,” “cunt,” “pussy,” and etc.

From what I read, as long as you did not say those things in Church during all those hundreds of years, it was not considered immoral or a marker of not being a Christian or of good character. Even children’s school books and street names had some of those words and no offense was taken. The very first use in writing of the word “fuck” was a British legal document on December 8, 1310. It listed the name of a criminal as “Roger Fuckebythenavele.” It is believed that the state decided to use derogatory name to suggest that he was so stupid he didn’t know the proper way to have sex. But the point was this was in mainline British culture and in the fourteenth century, that was okay. It was not offensive. What happened?

The Victorian Transmutation

This all changed during the Victorian age, which roughly corresponds to the reign of Queen Victoria or the nineteenth century. While not directly related to the queen, there was a social transformation in England and the US. It was a time when Christianity had reached its pinnacle in Western societies and at this peak it was a driving social force for defining decency. Some historians have called this period the “The Cult of Respectability” where more and more social rules were introduced as social markers of decency, none having anything to do with the Bible or essential Christian teachings. It was during this period of time that certain words or language were deemed taboo. We still bear many of these social mores.

The Victorian Age

What Does the Bible Really Say About Profanities?

Nothing. The Bible is a book of history, poetry, and in places, law and instruction. The law of the Bible is simple, the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament and that is raised to a higher level in the New Testament with Jesus’s sermons. Most of the rest of the Bible was never intended as law. However, it is like a Rorschach (ink blot) test. You will see what you want to see. You want to see certain things because that is what your subculture dictates. When I was an evangelical, a long time ago, I mined the Bible daily looking for obscure rules that I could follow that would give me the sense that I was better than other people who didn’t follow them. Self-serving.

Rorschach Ink Blot Test Sample

I will assert that the reason religions create a long list of dos and don’ts (as in the Victorian Ages) has much more to do with appearance than substance. If there is such a litany of mores that I must follow to be a good person, or even a Christian, then it works in my favor if I follow these rules. I appear better than others. It is about our self-esteem. “I don’t say swear words, therefore I’m a better person than those who do.”

Here is what the Bible does say about language, which is often misinterpreted as profanities.

The third commandment says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” I was taught that this meant saying, “God dammit” or even “Oh, God!” If you were raised like me, you cringe just thinking about this phrase. But what I’ve read by Biblical scholars, it means assigning responsibility to God, that is not deserved. For example, there were several (gay-haters) who said that the hurricane Katrina was sent to New Orleans by God to punish it because of its gay population. In the 1980s we heard the same thing from Evangelical leaders about the AIDs epidemic. This is taking the name of God in vain, and sin.

But those who mine the Bible for rules that aren’t there, work hard to condemn those who use words in their language that our society has deemed immoral. Here is an example of such rule-mining. Let me define some of those words in their rational definition. “Do not swear” has nothing to do with what we now call “swearing.” Profanities are relabeled with those Biblical terms to make them look Biblical. Read the passage in context and you will see that the issue was lying. People swore (“I swear by this or that”) because their normal answer might be a lie, but this answer with a swear was at a higher standard. James was making it clear, make your normal answer the truth and there is no need to swear to something.

Another Biblical word that is used to label profanities is “cursing.” The vast majority of profanities have nothing to do with cursing, but some do. I would be very hesitant to say to someone, “God damn you!” That would be a case of cursing, or placing a curse. The New Testament teaches that the language we should use is a language of love. Some, who ascribe to the idea that profanities always being bad, would argue that if someone said, “You are one bad mutherfucker!” is not the language of love. But in some subcultures,I think it is.

The Advantage of Profanities

I mentioned in the previous post that normal language is stored in the left side of the brain, primarily in the Broca and Wernicke’s areas while profanities are stored deeply in the emotional parts of the brain, such as the limbic system. In that case, profanities might serve a useful purpose in venting or processing emotional situations. Stubbing your toe and shouting, “Dammit!” might be one of those cases.

I know that since my diagnosis with Multiple Myeloma, I’ve had periods of intense pain, and frustration with trying to do the basic functions of life. Using profanities when pain strikes out of the blue has been a healthy response for me.

One concern is that during the Victorian Era, not only did certain words become inappropriate, but our emotions became illicit as well. It is where the concept of the stiff upper lip came from. Where good Christian people would smile during their child’s or spouse’s funeral because they knew their loved one was with Jesus. It is the idea that the parents sitting in a hospital waiting room, while their child is enduring a life-saving, but dangerous surgery, would stay calm. I’ve watched how Muslims handle such situations and it is profoundly different than evangelicals. They express unfiltered emotions, tearing their clothes, sobbing uncontrollably. It is not due to their lack of faith, but their living within reality.

I will say, those subcultures where every sentence they speak is laced with profanities, I suspect that those words end up residing in the area of the brain where normal words are kept, having no emotional link anymore, having lost their punch or benefit.

In Conclusion

I am making the argument that using profanities are not a mark of someone’s decency or morality. Those who deem it so, should reconsider the moral link to language. No, I’m not advocating for using more profanities, especially by those who don’t now. I am advocating for grace toward others’ language, in speaking and writing, with an understanding where this unfavorable bias is rooted.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Mike

On Writing (and speaking) Profanities, Part I

The very first time I tried to publish a book was in the early 1990s. This doesn’t count my feeble attempts to write a book on philosophy when I was sixteen, “self-publishing” it, literally by typing up each page and binding it with cardboard and duct tape. That book had one reader, our high school history and philosophy teacher, Dr. Murphy. He said he liked it. He was very kind.

The book I wanted to write in the early 1990s was a children’s story. My kids were still young and I had habitually made up bedtime stories for them. I had enjoyed some success in writing thirty-some articles for magazines and journals and thought the transition into books would be easy. It wasn’t.

My children’s book had a strong Christian theme, and therefore I approached a Christian publisher. It was at a time when I was just leaving the subculture of American evangelicalism and was still trying to make sense of the world. To my surprise my storyboard caught the eye of such a publisher. They had not seen my manuscript and considering how much I have learned about writing since, I’m sure it was atrocious and would have been rejected. However, they did send me their author guidelines and rules, which I had to conform to before submitting it. Those guidelines applied to both their children’s and adult books. They included the following:

  1. There can be no profanities, the obvious ones, but also no euphemisms such as “darn,” “shoot,” or Geez (some consider short for “Jesus”).
  2. There can be no mention of smoking, drinking alcohol, or illicit drug use.
  3. All the characters must display “godly attitudes” at all times.
  4. The Christian characters should display Christian language (what I call “God talk”) such as, “Isn’t today such a blessing?”
  5. If there is a non-Christian character, that character must not succeed in the areas where they sin. Then all non-Christian characters must have a moment of repentance and acceptance of Jesus by the end of the book, then have success.

I should have known better, but I was perplexed. According to their guidelines, they would have rejected C. S. Lewis’ children fantasies as well as J.R.R. Tolkien’s works.

When my book Ristretto Rain was first published, a friend asked me, “This is a Christian book isn’t it, I mean, it would be okay for my children to read?” I was taken aback a bit because I don’t see the world as black and white, Christian themed or secular. I consider a “Christian book” as a book about Christianity, but novels as either consistent with reality or not. The idea of creating Christian fiction as something different from normal fiction, is about the way groups view reality. I will state my mantra once more, if God exist, he exist in reality. The better we know reality, the better we can see God. The more we live in a delusion, the foggier the face of God.

While my Ristretto Rain did not have a lot of profanities, it was PG-13 if not R, based on some adult themes. There was one, brain-injured character who had no filter and spoke often of sex and masturbation. He was modeled after a real-life character I know who is exactly like that. So, my answer to her was “No, don’t get the book for your children.” My biggest concern was that she would be angry at me for exposing her children to things she didn’t want them exposed to.

In my new book (coming soon) The Stones of Yemen there is a significant amount of profanities. I don’t write profanities for some type of shock effect, but because I write with a consistency with reality. Before I start writing, I build a character from reality. Then I put the characters together in certain situations and let them react in the ways that they should. If I were to write a book where all the characters were in the American evangelical subculture or some other non-profanity group, then they would not use profanities, at least not in public. I do have one character in The Stones of Yemen who is the daughter of a Baptist minister and uses a lot of euphemisms such as “friggin,” “Buster,” and “darn.” But the rest of the characters do not have such a disposition. I put them all in very intense situations, so much so that not using profanities would be a great disservice and unrealistic. Things get so intense that even the Baptist-raised woman resorts to profanities, like they do in real life.

But I just can’t leave things alone, can I? This topic raises a whole can of philosophical worms about profanities and so-called decency. I would really like to deconstruct our ideas about those things. I ask that whatever your view is on profanities, that you come back for part II and listen to what I have to say. I will not encourage people who don’t use profanities to start using them, and I certainly will not discourage those who use them.

As a teaser, brain research has shown that while language is very complex with words being stored in a variety of places, such as the angular gyrus in the parietal lobe, Wernicke’s area (comprising mainly the top rear portion of the temporal lobe), insular cortex, basal ganglia and cerebellum. However, words associated with profanities are stored more in the limbic (emotional) areas of the brain. This is one reason why people with brain diseases, stroke or dementia, might retain their ability to use profanities effectively while normal language use is more difficult. It is also why profanities may have a helpful, psychological or spiritual role for some people, while other people are angered by the use of such words.

Mike

The Stone Cottage, Chapter Two

Today was a landmark day. After two and a half years of patience, my permit was issued today. Hallelujah! Now, the hard work begins.

I am the general contractor for this project and will end up doing most of the work myself. I need to learn to do good plumbing, framing, electrical work, roofing, and wear many other hats. I feel like I’m a freshman in college again, books everywhere. But that’s a good thing. When your brain is taken up with dreams and plans, it leaves little space for mischievous thoughts, such as worry or sadness. Right now, the only part I want to contract out is the concrete foundation.

Foundation

I don’t know how it is in the rest of the country, but it is a challenge to find skilled work here. Historically, it has been because there such a high demand for building and limited skilled workers. While building might have slowed down across the country, it has not here. I have been trying to secure a foundation company for over a year. I think I have finally nailed that down. We have an informal agreement, but the owner will be here in two weeks to go over details and finalize a written contract.

Water

Potable water has been the impetus of the long delay. The community did not want me tying into their well due to fears I was building this as a rental. I am not. A new well would be north of 65K. I turned to rainwater catchment, but after two years, that was a complete waste of time and money. The company, which is the premier company in Seattle, fumbled the ball. So, with pity in my eyes, I was able to persuade the community that this building was an important part of my moving forward in my struggle against my illness. They agreed to give me their permission.

The next step was trying to find the plastic waterline, which was buried about 30-40 years ago. I spent about six weeks on this quest. I started by creating a straight line from the assumed water source, about 100 yards to our house. I began digging trenches across this line in several places, down to 36 inches, without success. Not only did I have to dig this by hand, but I had to use gardening tools to avoid cutting the line with a shovel or maddock.

Then I got smarter. I met with the one neighbor who was living here (actually she was living in our house in those days) when the waterline was put in. To my surprise, she drew a map from memory, where the line came in from the north, rather than the west. She seemed to know what she was talking about. At that juncture, I could have started digging random trenches again, or pay a plumber 2 K to come with ground penetrating radar to find it, or to think more. I pulled up a county LIDAR image, which had a tiny, 1/4 inch, indentation running in that direction. Then I used Google Earth.

In archeology, they often can find buried artifacts such as buildings and walls via crop lines. When earth has been disturbed, vegetation above the disturbed soil is a little greener. It is so subtle that you can’t see it with your eye on the ground, but you can see it from space. The reason is, disturbed ground retains moisture better.

Above is the Google Earth image of our property. The rectangle object in the center is Denise’s garden (who a group of you helped build when I was just diagnosed with cancer and couldn’t do it, thanks again!). The west is to the left. You can see the mow lines in the field that generally run from east to west, but if you look carefully, just west of the garden, you will see slightly darker line going from the southeast (right lower) to the northwest (upper left). My first trench across this line nailed the waterline, just 14 inches down. Finding the waterline was essential before breaking ground.

I will keep you posted as I progress and I will try to make this interesting enough to be “read-worthy.”

Mike

Health Update 11/7/22

I don’t expect strangers or friend to be that interested in my mudante health updates and thank God, this one is mundane. I was planning on suspending such postings, unless there was some important information. However, I thought about the fact that my children and extended family get their news about my health here, I am primarily doing this for them.

First a Word About my Friend Margaret

Before I start with mostly good news, I must pay tribute to my friend, and the friend of many who visit here, Margaret Campbell. Nine years ago she was diagnosed with lung cancer and was given the expectation of months to live. She moved here to be closer to her sons and to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Her and her husband Don made the decision that while they fought this wailful disease, they would live their lives to the fullest … and they did.

When I first met Margaret, cancer was still a stranger to me, although my brother was still alive and suffering from it and I had lost my father to it. Little did I know of the private battle that she must have borne as I do now, having experienced it. The symptoms of the disease is one category, but more often it is the symptoms of the treatment that can be unbearable. Losing relationships with people who do not like broken friends hurts (I’m not sure this ever happened to her as she had a herd of close friends who stuck with her until the end) and all the other social loss that comes with cancer’s limitations. Like me, she had been a very health persons before her diagnosis, never smoked, ate right, and exercised. No blame.

I’ve read memoirs and heard stories of people who had these intrusive and unfair diseases wreck their lives and they became very bitter. But not Margaret. Maybe in private, but I never heard her ask that philosophical question, “Why me?” It was maybe through Margaret’s example that those question never entered my personal lexicon after my diagnosis.

She was a warrior, but like all great warriors, the battle takes its toil and she passed from this beautiful place this morning. Christians have different viewpoints of death and I don’t know what her’s was, but I respect it. I’ve shared before that I see death as the ultimate bad. Not God’s intent. Unnatural. The result of a broken world. While there is hope of better things on the other side, I don’t know exactly what it is like. I hope it is like how NT Wright describes it, us back in this cosmos, but perfected. I hope someday to go flying through that wonderful restored universe with her and Don, without a rocket or plane, but with eagles’ wings. Here’s to you Margaret, now, if the tears will subside long enough for me to see the keyboard, I will finish this post with my better news.

I should feel guilty juxtaposing my better news with their bad, but I know that Don would understand and she would support this. She was always rooting for me. Please hold that family in your prayers. I must mention before closing this part that her husband Don was a care-giver superstar. No one could eclipse his devotion of caring for a suffering spouse.

My Health Update

Today was my monthly appointment with my oncologist. Today, I finished the tapering down of my intensive chemo program to the maintenance version. It is still three drugs but at a lower dose. For the sixth consecutive month, my major cancer markers (light chains) were all normal. With such a deep remission, my oncologist expects that I will be stable on this maintenance for “many years.” No one knows for sure. The Multiple Myeloma could come back tomorrow through a further mutation. But that is his good guess. I will accept that, without taking anything for granted.

My energy level is still climbing, not as good as I was in May, but better than September. My biggest drawback is that one of my chemos causes a rather severe anemia (hemoglobin 9-11 range). This causes me to be very short of breath with exercise. I started a 4.5 mile hike with friends (I may have been the second youngest in the group) and I had to bail out half way due to the elevation gain. That’s embarrassing. But reasonable hikes on flat land are now possible.

I am still somewhat of a hermit. COVID is still circulating. The newest (Scrabble) variants seem to be resistant to the vaccines and prior infections. However, I did attend an outdoor campfire with friends and an indoor trivia night with a group, but me wearing a mask. I don’t want to let my guard down too quickly.

With hope of a future, a guarded future, I am trying to recalibrate my life a bit. I had been thinking in terms of months, trying to get x, y, and z done while I can. But now with things like the stone cottage, I’m thinking out three years.

I had mentioned before that Denise and I were in training for a trek across Greenland when I was diagnosed. I can’t imagine being off the grid for two weeks crossing the backcountry of Greenland with no way out but by foot, now. But we are planning on a family reunion in Iceland In June.

Denise and I had almost move (permanently) to Iceland in 1986, instead of Egypt (that obviously didn’t turn out to be permanent), so the country has always had a special place in our hearts. This will be our third trip and with all our adult kids and grandkids meeting us there, it should be fun exploring its culture and wilderness on a deeper level.

Mike

P.S. Tonight I can blame the typos on quick typing and eyes laden with tears.

The Stones of Yemen, Update

I am on the home stretch of the grueling process of working with a professional editor for my manuscript. She completed her work yesterday, and now I must do one more rewrite (this will be rewrite number 24) to incorporate her corrections and suggestions. After that, then one more pass through the proof-reader, then cover design, and it will be done! There is a remote chance I could have it on the market by the end of the year.

Stones of Yemen Cover Prototype

My editor is an acquisition editor for a traditional publishing house and has been editing and writing for over thirty years and these were her kind words to me yesterday. I will not use her name as I did not ask her for a plug.

Hi, Mike, 

Here is the rest.

I’m so glad I got to finish reading the book. It was very much a pleasure! Really well done, well thought out. The main character is so relatable–you really feel like you’re in his head, in his world.

You have something to be proud of here, and I wish you luck with it.

Feel free to ask me any questions you might have about the editing.

When I read that, tears came to my eyes. It has been a long journey. More than just the last 24 months that I’ve spent inside the head of Bryan Rogers, living in the mountains of Yemen. It is a journey that started in 1984, when I published my first article in a magazine. Writing nonfiction medical articles for journals and magazines came easily to me and I had more than thirty published. That’s why I had an irrational leap to writing books, first nonfiction and now fiction. I have worked hard at that craft and I have a long ways to go. For you to know that I’m not boasting here, I also had an editor of a book manuscript tell me just a few years ago something along the line, “Mike, you are not a writer. There’s a book in this manuscript somewhere, but I can’t find it.” Ouch!

Bur writers, like all artist wanna bes, must have thick skin. Pick up the pieces, learn from them and move on.

I have never approached writing as a business. I’ve never come close to recouping the money I have to spend on editors through my book sales. I write for my own sanity in this post multiple myeloma diagnosis world I must live in. But in my heart, I want to tell a compelling story that makes the lives of other people a little better for a few days, and possible for much longer, and to share little part of this big world that they may not know.

I still have not made a decision about going with a traditional publishing house or through my small independent press. There are pros and cons with each. While a traditional house brings prestige and a broader market, you must turn over all your creative aspirations to them. Already, with a conversation with one editor, who represents one such publishing house, I was told major changes would have to take place, including dumbing down the book and replacing the PA-protagonist with a MD-protagonist, to make it more appealing to the popular market. I refused to do those things.

Thanks for your interest. I will keep you informed of the progress. Now to my last rewrite. Thanks to Kevin and Eric, who read draft # 2. Thanks to the other ten people who read draft # 5. Your words were invaluable. The book has come a very long way since then. I will send my beta readers a complimentary copy of the book when it is published.

With gratitude, Mike

The Stone Cottage

Typical Scottish Stone Cottage

 I don’t know when I fell in love with old things, but it must have been a long time ago. My dad had his tenure as the president of the Tennessee Archeology Society during my formative years. So, it was typical during my early teens, I would spend my Saturdays with my dad, “in the village.” It wasn’t any village, but a Cherokee settlement that carbondated around the time of Christ. While I was scraping around in the floor of someone’s private home with a trowel, looking for bones, pots, arrowheads, and beads, I felt like I was trespassing. I would look up at the surrounding dogwoods now and then, thinking I was seeing pairs of ancient eyes watching me plunder their personal space.

It was in college when I first started living in older homes. In America, that meant a house built at the start of the twentieth century, or perhaps at the end of the nineteenth. I did look at one rental that was built in the eighteenth century and it had two slave quarters beneath the front porch, no more than caves in the stone foundation. A bad reminder of my own people’s history, a history I wish I could forget. I didn’t rent that house, not because of the ugly reminder beneath our feet, but that fact the floors sloped from years of that stone foundation settling, and campus was too far to ride a bike.

During my years as a student, my friends and I preferred old houses. It wasn’t the oldness we desired but the largeness. Before contraceptives were invented in 1950, homes—for some odd reason—were much larger. If I looked in the Catholic side of town, the older homes were enormous, seven, eight or ten bedrooms. We desired these homes, not because we were wealthy, but because we were poor. You could stack a lot of college students in a big old wood-framed house from the 1920s. I think the largest number we achieved was thirteen guys in an old house in Lexington, Kentucky for one summer, making our individual rent obligations less than 80 bucks/month.

My real love of history and oldness came after I began to travel and work in Europe and Asia and when I wanted to understand my own culture better. Certainly, after I moved to Cairo, Egypt oldness took on a whole new meaning. One of the few things I like about that mega city, was taking a ride on a beat-up old bus—I wondered some days if it too was a relic from the pharaonic days—from the burbs, down to the center of the city and methodically walking toward the heart of “Old Egypt.” That journey was like a trip through time, penetrating the layers as if were an ancient onion. I would pass the affluent, but worn-out buildings from the 1920s, then the nineteenth century stone buildings would come into view. Eventually, I would walk under Roman aqueducts and into a two-thousand-year-old neighborhood. There was a church ( Abu Serga ) in that neighborhood that claimed to be built over the lcave where Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus lived while fleeing King Herod. If it weren’t so far, I could have walked farther and onto the Giza plateau and the Pyramids for yet another two-thousand-year leap into Egypt’s past.

Aqueducts in Cairo

I discovered that history contains all the answers to the “whys’ of our present culture. But during this process, not only did I fall in love with history, but old buildings, including old houses.

I discovered that history contains all the answers to the “whys’ of our present culture.

J. Michael Jones

I had also fell in love living abroad to the point that I started to dream of retiring overseas, to an very old house. As I was contemplating where to move to, I took a month trip to Malta to finish writing my book, Butterflies in the Belfry. I considered Malta a good candidate for retirement because it collates the European and Arab cultures in a beautiful way. Don’t tell anyone, but the Maltese language is actually a Libyan dialect of Arabic written in Latin script. I could understand some simple conversations due to my Arabic background. When I looked for an Airbnb there, I wanted the oldest possible house, and I found it.

While most of Valletta (Malta’s capital) was built in the sixteenth century by The Knights Hospitaller, as the last line of defense against the Turks, residents of Malta date back to the stone age. My flat (and Denise later joined me) was in the basement of an old building, a building constructed by The Knights Hospitaller, then rebuilt as modern apartments, then bombed to ruble during World War II, and then rebuilt once again. But my flat preceded all of those lives, or at least that’s what the owner–an Italian architect from Florence–told me. It had been a stable (evidence of a manger carved into its limestone walls) and may have been dated from the Roman period. I loved staying there, although it was cold being in Malta’s winter and no central heat. But I could spit from my window into the Mediterranean. Bliss.

Malese Airbnb

As I was approaching retirement, still four or five years aways, Denise was seeing the seriousness in my dreams. We had candid conversations about retiring abroad, and she was set against it, for good reason. It is our five kids and three grandkids in the states. While I reasoned that we could see them almost as often as we do now, she was right, that living on the other side of the world from them would have an impact. In a good marriage, there is not always agreement, but times of compromised or a permissive agreement.

I came up with a plan B, meaning a part-time residence abroad. To financially manage such an arrangement, I knew I would have to down-size my dreams to an simple old stone house in need of repair. My candidates for location were Malta, Morocco, Italy, or Scotland. I began to look for such a house, and found many, especially in Italy.

Multiple Myeloma Bites

On January 11th, 2019, at the draw of the phlebotomist’s needle, my life took a drastic detour. Without belaboring a story you well know, in that blink of a moment, my career ended, my future became guarded, and my dreams died. We knew that the days I had left, whether it was months or even decades, this unholy battle against Multiple Myeloma would have to take center stage.

About two years ago, as I had some “hope of living” returning but a life that was now devoid of an occupation, I began to dream again. While the idea of buying an old cottage overseas was still not reasonable, considering my cancer care, I started to think how I could realize that dream here. There are no old stone cottages to restore, not here on the West Coast. I started to dream how I could build an authentic old stone cottage here, that would have the same appearance as those I had looked at in Scotland. We had the space and the beautiful location. It would give me something to keep me sane, as the only other things I have are thinking and writing. You can only look into a lake and consider the big questions of life for so long. You can only write so many hours per day on your books before going cross-eyed. If idleness is the Devil’s workshop, then a life devoid of meaning and dreams is Oizys’s workshop. Oizys is the Greek goddess of depression, which became Miseria in Latin, from where we get our English word “Misery.”

Oizys, Goddess of Depression

The first hurdle was convincing Denise to let me do it. While my giving up moving overseas was via my permissive agreement, this time around, it was via Denise’s permissive agreement to allow me to pursue building a stone cottage, which she opposed.

Two and a half years ago I met with an architect and began the process. We quickly ran into a roadblock over potable water. Our house is on a community well, and the rest of the community voted against allowing me to use their water for the cottage. Without potable water, we would not be able to get permits.

Drawings of my Cottage at Loch Eyre

My architect suggested rainwater catchment as an alternative, since our own well wasn’t a viable option. I wasted almost two years working with the best rainwater catchment company in Western Washington, but they dropped the ball and they never got the proper permits. It was about this time in May that my cancer returned and I put the whole project on hold. Would I be here to finish it? Once I started my summer chemo program, I didn’t have the strength to lift a hammer. But my architect then suggested I go back to the community and ask for a re-vote.  I did, and this time, it was approved. We applied for permits in May and they should be approved this week.

Carving a stone kitchen sink, like those I’ve seen in ancient houses
Stone Work I did on our existing house as practice for the stone cottage

Building this cottage is so valuable to me and my cancer journey. It gives me something to think about and to plan, besides cancer or the big questions of life. Physically, it gives me a motivation to go into training so I can lift boards once again and carry a hammer. Most of us are creative on some level, and besides my writing, it is a creative outlet. Denise is right that building anything can be stressful and with cost overruns. But for me, when I put into the balance of these risks, with the risks of being in a dark place once again, building the cottage, or at least dreaming of building the cottage, could be truly life-saving.

Ground officially broken as I’m trenching by hand, looking for the existing water pipe.
Timbers I have been shaping with an old ship-wright’s adz

For the last two weeks, while I’m waiting on permits, I’ve been hand-digging trenches trying to find the buried plastic water pipe. With the help of an old resident, who was in the area when the pipe was laid, and with the help of LIDAR, I think I’ve located the general area. But the archeologist in me forces me to sift the dirt I take out of the ground. Being beside an old lake is a great place for an prehistoric settlement from the end of the last ice age (See Orcas Island’s Ayer Pond , see also Triquet Island, BC ). So far, I’ve found several white-man artifacts and possibly a small piece of a stone bowl (hard to tell) that was from sediments at the end of the ice age. Never send an archeologist to excavate a site for new construction.

Meager Findings, (White man’s artifacts at the top, the lip to a stone bowl (unconfirmed) in the center)

I plan on writing updates now and then, as I make progress. This should be the longest article by far.

Mike,

Builder of the Cottage at Loch Eyre, (at least the Dreamer of Building a Cottage at Loch Eyre).

Why a Christian Should Support a Person’s Choice of Pronouns—A Philosophical Discussion

This is not an article about grammar, which I assumed most are delighted to hear. But it is on something more complex. It is about gender specific pronouns, their use and how that relates to the pursuit of truth.

Last week, on a physician assistant (my profession) professional online forum, I posted a link to a Fox News headline where a physician assistant was fired in Michigan when she would not agree to follow the hospital policy of using a patient’s preferred pronoun, even if that pronoun is inconsistent with their congenital sexual morphology, or refer patients for transgender therapies. She stated her reason was because she was a Christian (evangelical, I assume). Now to give Ms Kloosterman  all due fairness, I am sure the situation was more complex than a simple brush over of the facts in the media. She was fired and the exact reasons are not clear, but she also reports a hostile response to her initial concerns. But putting all that complexity aside, I just wanted to focus on the issue of using patients’ desired pronouns. I left that post to “soak” (think crab pot) for a few days and went back to see the discussion and to comment.

I was not surprised that evangelical Christians came to this Michigan PA’s defense, but the argument that the main Christian supporter used, did surprise me a bit. She said that the reason she would not use the preferred pronoun, if it is inconsistent with the patient’s sexual anatomy at birth (I’m not sure how you would know this in many cases), is because she is one of the few people (and I think she included all evangelicals in this “few”) who still believe in absolute truth.

I had not posted any opinion on that forum up to that point, but I knew that I was not in favor of the Michigan PA’s viewpoint in the story or the supporting evangelicals. So, to have someone with an opposing opinion to mine, stake out that the difference between her and people like me was the belief in absolute truth, was like a poke in the eye. Actually, it was like a poke in both eyes, Three Stooges type.

The one theme that has been behind much of my writing and thinking since 1990 is the quest for absolute truth. I am speaking of the classical Greek idea of truth, that which is consistent with reality. This quest, for me at least, transcends religion and into a unifying field of knowledge of all of reality, including fields such as science (and thus my series of articles on an old earth). I don’t like lies. I don’t like it when I lie. I don’t like it when religious people or politicians lie. My mantra has been, if God exist, he lives in reality. The better we see reality, the better we can see God. The more we are delusional about reality, the foggier God becomes. But it is not just about God.

I do admit, along with the commenter on that forum, that we live in an age when truth has become relative. We all see it in politics. Stolen elections with no evidence? Claim that vaccines are dangerous with no evidence of that? With the invent of social media’s soundbites, perception is more important than reality, so lies do work.

On the conservative side of Christianity, the relativity of truth has come with the merging of Christian ideas with conservative political and American nationalistic ideas. While on the surface, American white evangelicals see a harmony between the two, these do ideologies make strange bedfellows. I could share a thousand data points to prove my point, but one example is that the main agenda of the conservative political movement (and virtually all political movements) is the lust for power. So, when you have two philosophies with opposing fundamental ideas, conservative political seeking power, while Jesus said, his kingdom is not of this world, then to merge them, you have to sacrifice the aspiration for absolute truth. The pioneers who first mix these opposing viewpoints in the same pot may not see the consequences of the loss of truth, but it will haunt their philosophical descendants. For with the loss of absolute truth, eventually comes the loss of meaning and ethics, and we are seeing that already.

On the liberal side of Christianity, some would call “new age Christianity” there is a merging of two opposites, orthodox Christianity, and eastern religions, most notable, Buddhism. As I’ve said many times, I can respect, philosophically, a Christian and a Buddhist, but I have no respect for the blenders, because it makes no sense. Again, I could list a thousand data point of incompatibilities, but I will look at one simple one, and that is in metaphysics.

Christianity’s concept of reality (along with all the major monotheistic religions and with much of science) is that reality is real, time is real and linear, history is real and is also linear. But the basis of Buddhism is that reality is an illusion as is time and history. This has major ramifications in how you approach life.

The major tenet of Buddhism is that strife comes from desire. To escape desire, one attempts to transcend this illusion of reality. For one practical example, meditation exist in both Christianity and Buddhism, however, they have profoundly different goals. For the Buddhist, they meditate to transcend the world around them, such as the single word or mantra. Sometimes it is the focusing on the irrational as the classical sound of one hand clapping. On the other hand, Christian meditation has traditionally been rational. You sit and meditation on a question, “How can I be a better husband?” Or you might meditate on the nature of God, but not with the intention of removing yourself from reality, but to close in on it. Muslims often meditate on the adjectival names of God in the same way.

My point in this, just like on the conservative side, to merge two opposing viewpoints, there has to be the sacrifice of objective truth. And like with the conservative Christian counterparts, eventually you must pay the piper, with the total abandonment of morals and meaning. The pioneers into this blended religion still talk of issues such as justice and cruelty, but eventually they must go silent. You cannot have a basis of seeking justice or opposing cruelty where there is no truth. In contrast, I will mention that the atheist believes in absolute truth of reality, but in a cosmos without a basis for morality or meaning, beyond an illogical existential approach. But I will stop here and go back to my main point about pronouns.

Looking at Pronouns from the Viewpoint of Truth

The argument that the evangelicals make, beyond the banner “Believing in Absolute Truth” is that God created humans as man and woman and then said that creation is good (see: (Gen. 1:41012182125). Therefore, if someone was born with male genitalia but feels like they are a woman (gender dysphoria) or vice versa, they are in sin because they are rejecting God’s design. So, if they have a penis but prefer to be called “her” or “they,” then that is likewise sin. Other conservative Christians (or so I assume) then moved into the issue as a mental health problem, that if you have a penis, but want to function as a woman, or vice versa, you are “delusional.” Delusional is another name for being inconsistent with absolute truth. Then for the medical provider to use the pronoun that the patient prefers is enabling that delusion. Regarding that point, it is not “delusional” to feel feminine while in a male body. However, it would be delusional to think you have a penis when you don’t, but that’s not their assertion.

Side-Bar Digression, Religious Mining for Law

I believe that I am entitled to be critical of the evangelical movement because I squandered almost half my life there, ending in 1990. But I observed, even while I was an evangelical, that our impetus for Biblical studies, was mining the Bible for law and quotable knowledge to impress our peers. I suspect that other religions do this. I know that Islam does. So, we read scripture to see where we need to obey laws better and to show us where other, outsiders, disobey these same laws (and fuel for the cultural wars). We told ourselves that we did this because we love God so much that we just want to obey him. But I think something more sinister was at work. None of us are as good (morally) as we think, however, our value is far greater than we can Imagine.

None of us are as good (morally) as we think, however, our value is far greater than we can Imagine.

J. Michael Jones

I’ve said before that when we boil everything down, the MO of all our behavior as self-worth. People only put a bullet in their heads when they calculate they are worthless. So, by having a litany of rules that we obey, which we have convinced ourselves are from the Bible, we evangelicals calculated a higher self-worth, at least in God’s eyes. Moreover, when we created a greater chasm between ourselves and those who do not obey this litany of rules, we had a greater sense of self-worth via juxtapositioning.

This psychological predisposition renders us vulnerable to seeing laws in the Bible where none exist. I will use the number one evangelical moral issue as an example, which of is abortion. Gay marriage a close second. The Bible doesn’t mention outright abortion, while it does allude to miscarriage in a few places. It is a big leap to assume that a single-cell zygote is fully human, and you will not find any such claim in the Bible. You could make the case, even from old Hebrew writings, that the zygote and later fetus is valuable, but not fully human. Yet, the evangelical makes this huge assumption that it is fully human because then they can apply all the Biblical laws regarding murder. The Bible is clear that murder is bad. I will close this thought with a statement that I’ve made before here, the problem with women who use abortion as a form of birth control do not see the intrinsic value in a fetus as an emerging human being. The problem with the anti-abortionists, is that they don’t see the intrinsic value in a woman who is in crisis.

Looking at Real Absolute Truth

Now back to our story. In the case of gender identity, the evangelical makes a huge leap that the way God created us (the way we were born) was of his perfect design and any conflict with that is sin. This idea gets psychological traction because it separates those bad people who don’t like the sexual identity they were born with from us good people who do. Therefore, in this process of law mining, we start with a simple statement about creation and make huge assumptions that it is sin to not like the gender we were born with. To claim to be fully one gender in the body of the opposite is the paramount sin in that thinking.

If you agree with the statement that it is sin to feel incompatible with the gender state you were born in, then, for the sake of logic, you must then apply that idea to all genetic features. This logic is the beginning of real absolute truth. It is equally sin to dye your hair a different color, if you dye it blond as a young woman, or dye-out the gray as an older man. It is also sin to fight alopecia. Don’t even mention Botox or fillers. Don’t get me started on breast augmentation, coolsculpting, or liposuction. It is also sin to fight more ominous states of birth such as crippling birth defects. Goodbye Shriners, you are doing the work of the devil with those kids! You can even extrapolate that it is even sin for people like me to fight cancer or other diseases if they have even an inkling of genetic predisposition to that disease state. That’s the way God made us … or is it?

It is also an essential doctrine of Christianity that the cosmos is no longer perfect. In many ways we are square pegs in round holes and on many levels. Why is the Christian surprised when there is a misalignment between gender identity and external genital anatomy? Why do they use that misalignment as grounds for hating a whole class of people?

For the sake of time, I will not diverge across the entire spectrum of the non-genderization of pronouns. Subscribers of those views have different motivations, even those who are completely content with their birth sex. I will even admit that you will find those few individuals who were just bored in life and to create attention and meaning they decided to pursue becoming the opposite sex. If those people exist, I suspect they are the rare minority. In the same way, I suspect that there are atheists who, just for the fun of it, are pretending to be evangelicals, but again, that must be rare. Personally, I don’t see the “fun” in fundamentalism.

I will mention one more area in this pronoun dispute, and that is the ones we use for God. I will only say, if I were to ever write another non-fiction book (may God forbid) it would have a cover of a grandmother from the 1950s and a little girl sitting beside her and the title would be, No Suzie, God Does Not Have a Dick.

No Suzie, God Does Not Have a Dick

The more typical person with gender dysphoria gives a compelling testimony about when they were a very young child, being so distraught with their gender anatomy that they were suicidal. The Christian is the first person to assert that the personal testimony is a valuable and an evidential tool for finding truth. There is something there, a misalignment that goes far beyond “liberal helicopter parents who plant ideas of sex change in their children,” as I heard one evangelical on TV say.

Looking at the issue of pronouns, I want to wander back to a more practical application as I finish this up. Nowhere does the Bible say it is a sin to not like your gender, to use pronouns that are not in agreement with what lives in your pants. It is this process of law-mining that a conclusion is made, a messy form of Biblical exogenesis.

If I were still in practice, would I use the preferred pronoun for a patient, if I knew that pronoun was incongruent with their genitalia? Hell yeah! I would because I love and respected my patients. If a patient told me to call them “Rainbow Trout,” and that would not be so unusual as I had several patients who were native American, I would call them such. I would not make it an issue of my righteousness, to be praised by my Christian subculture or to be made a hero of the culture wars on Fox News. I don’t mean to imply that’s what this PA in Michigan is doing, but it would be what I would be doing back in my evangelical days if I were in her shoes.

What is the cause of gender dysphoria? That is a complex question, and no one knows for sure. This is too long already to discuss the research here. But I’ve heard the testimonies of many of these people, including those who were going through sex reassignment therapy and surgery and I am convinced it has an organic basis.

In closing, I want to say that I do not write these articles in order to persuade someone of a different opinion to follow mine. I certainly don’t write and post these things to argue with anyone. Religious and political beliefs are deeply held with deep emotional ties. However, I do write to defend those who share my views, but may not have the time to put their defense into thoughtful words and to stir thinking. If you have evidence that I have overlooked, such as a Bible verse that actually says, “Thy shall not be called by a gender pronoun that is different than your genitalia,” share that in comments. I will reconsider my positions bases on the evidence, because I believe in absolute truth.

Mike

Evidence of an Old Earth: Finale

Introduction: This my final installment of a long series of articles on the age of the earth. Today I want to look at radiometric dating techniques. While they are not the only way we date things in nature, it is often the “whipping boy,” of the young earth creationists (YECs), who put out volumes of misleading and false information about these techniques. They are highly reliable.

I said in the beginning that I wanted to make this an exhaustive presentation on the topic, because I could not find anyone else who has. However, once I waded into the material, I realize that I’ve only scratched the surface. There are people far more qualified to do this presentation than me, but like I said, I couldn’t find it. The scientists, I assume, don’t take the idea of a young earth seriously enough to put in the effort. Neither do they write long articles trying to prove the earth is not flat or is at the center of our solar system.

The Problem

A third of Americans believe that the earth is six thousand years old. They believe this because their religious leaders have told them to be a real Christian, or even a good person, they must believe in a young earth. If you listen to the YECs lectures and debates, they quickly turn it into a moral problem. “Are you on God’s side and believe in a young earth, or on the side of the devil?”

The problem is, there is overwhelming evidence for a very old (4.5 billion year old) earth and no evidence, whatsoever, of a six thousand year old earth. It shouldn’t matter how old the earth is, but it does matter if your wrong idea forces you to stop living in reality.

The reason these Christian religious leaders insist on a young earth, despite the evidence, is two-fold. First, while the Bible says nothing about the age of the earth, it became a church tradition to believe the earth is six thousand years old, based on Biblical lists of ancestral lineage and extrapolations from that list. By the way, the Bible is very clear, mentioning over 500 times, the importance of truth, not lying, not bearing false witness and the like, which you must ignore to promote the young earth idea.

The second reason is theological. The simple main tenants of the Christian religion is that God created the cosmos in a perfect state. Then, through human’s disobedience (sin), the cosmos “fell,” became flawed, including death entering the world. That Jesus, as the son of God, came to earth to atone for this sin and to start the process of restoring the cosmos to its perfect state, including the riddance of death. On a simple reading and understanding of this doctrine, it seems to make sense that humans were created first, since there could be no death prior to human sin. A very old earth seems to contradict that, because if human forms have only been on the earth for one million years (the YECs would say six thousand years), yet life has been on earth for one billion years, then there was a lot of death before the arrival of homosapiens.

I admit, this does create a theological quandray, on an elementary level. But the Bible and the Christian religion (and all religions) are fill with theological quandaries. But then reality, the evidence of nature, screams of a very old earth and we have two options. Either that key doctrine of Christianity is wrong, and thus Christianity collapses, or, we finite creatures have put God in a tiny box and the flaw is in our understanding. For example, time is linear to us humans, but to God, it may not be this way. Humans could have introduced sin into the cosmos, yet not be the first creation.

But a seeker of truth does not first make a conclusion (dogma) before looking at the evidence. That’s why I say, if you want to find truth, religion is not the best avenue, while science is. Science is not some monolithic society with its own dogmas and agenda, beyond seeking truth. Scientists routine change their minds as new evidence comes in. The religious almost never change their minds despite the evidence because it is about conformity to the group and it becomes a moral issue to them, “If you don’t believe in X, then you are not one of us and a bad person.” I’ve worked in both the religious and scientific communities. Within the scientific community, I’ve witness a humble lust for truth. I have often witnessed the opposite in the religious communities, an arrogant insistence on dogmatic conformity despite the evidence.

Reality or nature is the natural habitat for God.

J. Michael Jones

As I’ve said if God is there, he (you can say “she” if you like as God does not have genitalia) exist in reality. Reality or nature is the natural habitat for God. The better we know reality, the better we can understand God. We know reality by looking at the evidence. In the case of Christianity, God has spoken through the inspiration of the Bible and in the cosmos he has made. If there is a conflict between the two, one or both must be misinterpreted. In the case of an old earth, the evidence in the cosmos is overwhelming. There is no debate. The more we chose to live in a delusion to support our dogmas, the more fuzzy the face of God becomes.

Take the medieval model, also held by church tradition, of a geocentric solar system. The (what I call a “bronze-age” god) God who created such a small and limited cosmos is profoundly different than the God I believe in, who not only created a heliocentric solar system, but a huge, profoundly complex and wonderful 13.5 billion light-year wide cosmos filled with billions of solar systems. That is a profoundly different God. But the Church in the age of Galileo insisted on the geocentric model of the cosmos because of a theological dogma and tradition, rather than looking at reality. The Pope never went to Padua (where Galileo was living) and say, “Scoot over Galileo, let me take a look through your telescope, and show me the math.” But the Pope said, damn the evidence, conform to my dogma or die.

Personally, while I respect people and their religious traditions and am not here to criticise that, I am not a fan of religion. Yes, I am a Christian. But to me, religion is the human process in which we get a tiny glimpse of the divine and then fold and beat it down with a hammer of dogmas and our own ideas until it fits comfortable in our pockets. Even God doesn’t recognize what he has become in that situation.

When I was an evangelical, we loved to split hairs to prove who was with us and who was the enemy. The Bible says that we see now in a mirror dimly. Have you ever looked at a mirror from the time of Jesus? It was beaten bronze or copper, sometimes a precious metal, that gave a very rough and dim reflection. That’s why I can seek truth with zeal and not worry about where the evidence takes me, because the destination is reality, and that’s where God lives. I only see it dimly now. Someday it will be clear to us all. There is great freedom in the pursuit of truth with a big God. There is only fear with a small god.

When you are told by your religious institutions that you must believe something that is absolutely not true, then you start to mistrust all sources of truth outside of that religion. You don’t trust the scientists, your doctors, or the media. If they have all the evidence, then the default position is to sow distrust about them. Here is a related quote from the Answers in Genesis (Ken Ham’s group): “When a scientist’s interpretation of data does not match the clear meaning of the text in the Bible, we should never reinterpret the Bible.” It other words, it does not matter how much evidence is presented, human interpretation of the Bible should not change. That simply makes no sense. We use evidence all the time to try and make practical sense of what we read in the Bible, why should the age of the earth be any different? There are few areas of the Bible that have an indisputable meaning or interpretation. Now to my topic.

Radiometric Dating

In nature, when certain elements are exposed to high energy levels, some of the atoms within that sample take on high energy states, called isotopes. Isotopes usually have an extra one or more neutrons in the nucleus. This does not change their chemical properties but makes them radioactive. The radioactivity simply means that once they are out of the high energy environment, they begin shedding that extra energy by losing the extra neutrons and reverting back to the stable state. A good metaphor is a rechargeable battery. Once it is unplugged from its charging station (and is in use) it begins to move toward a low-energy state. Since these elements shed their extra neutrons at a constant and predictable rate, by comparing the number of base atoms with the number of isotope atoms in a sample, you have a very good clock to determine how long ago that element was in a high energy state, such as when a rock was formed, or–in the case of carbon–when the carbon was absorbed from the atmosphere. Carbon was never molton, but when in the atmosphere, it was bombarded by cosmic radiation, which caused baseline percentage of atmospheric carbon to be in the isotope form (such as carbon 14). That baseline carbon is then absorbed into living organism via respiration.

Radiometric dating was first described in 1907. So it has been around for over a hundred years. Since that time it has been scrutinized by scientists exhaustively and been found quite reliable. These tools are the Rolex Watches of nature. Because the measuring of the percentage of isotopes is difficult at the extreme ends, there is a margin of error of about 2-5% but up to 10% near the limits of that particular dating method. Carbon dating has recently been adjusted because it was measuring things younger than they really are due to higher concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere (you can easily test carbon dating by testing a sample of a written parchment that was created on a known date on it) . Each of the possible nineteen isotopes that can be used for dating have their own advantages and disadvantages. When used, the scientists are very careful to double check the dates, use more than one technique and etc. simply because they are not in the business of trying to prove a date, but trying to honestly know a date, whatever it is. For a more detailed description of the dating methods see this article.

The six most common dating isotopes are carbon 14 (used only in previously living samples and has a maximum age of about 60,000 years), The isotopes better suited for dating samples older than a few million years are; Uranium–lead, Potassium-argon, Rubidium-strontium, Samarium-neodymium, and Rhenium-osmium. Each one has their own characteristics and are better suited for certain samples. But it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss each of those nuisances.

The YECs often cites atypicals as proof that dating is unreliable. But each one of those can be explained. they often do their own “experiments” which have the design and intent to deceive people into believing the dating techniques are not trustworthy. They also say the old-earth scientists (whom they prefer to affectionately call, “evolutionists”) assume that the rate of decay of these isotopes has always been the same. But why wouldn’t they? This decay is following well-established principles of chemistry and there has been no serious deviations from it in the past 100+ years it has been observed.

I want to finish by looking at some of the specific examples that the YECs use to “prove” that radiometric dating is untrustworthy. But first, imagine for a moment that the tide was turned. That the mainstream geologists believed that the earth was six thousand years old, and the conservative religious people believed that the earth was four billion years old. Now imagine that all the dating techniques showed a four billion year old earth, but the scientists refused to accept that because of their previously held beliefs. If you have worked around science you would quickly realize that would make no sense because the scientists follow the evidence. Sure, you can have one zealous scientist who fights to hold on a view, despite the evidence. But eventually the evidence wins.

One example concerns the arrival of people to the Americas. Most established scientists believe that that people first came to the Americas around 16,000 years ago. However, in California there is one site, called the Cerutti Mastodon (CM) site, where 130,000 year old mastodons appeared to have been butchered, without any other traces of humans. The vast majority of archeologists reject that date. But if human artifacts or other sites are found with that date, eventually all of them will change their minds. That doesn’t happen easily within a religious context.

The YECs present radiometric dating as seriously flawed and the scientists behind them, at least babbling fools, if not outright evil. They link an old earth with evolution at every turn, claiming that there was a conspiracy. First, humans who did not want to believe in God made up the theory of evolution, then to justify the long period of times needed for evolution to occur, they invented the idea of a very old earth. That is why the YECs prefer to call the mainstream earth scientists, “evolutionists.” But that is simply not true. The age of the earth was first considered very old (millions of years) in the eighteenth century and Darwin didn’t publish his theory of evolution until the last half of the nineteenth century. At this juncture, I want to look at some of the YECs specific claims.

If you do a search of problems in radiometric dating, you will most likely end up on a YECs’ site. They did experiments where they radiocarbon dated coal beds and diamonds. While they knew the lay people would be familiar with the fact that coal is a carbon product, and that diamonds are made of carbon, the experiment, otherwise, made no sense except to create doubt in a reliable dating technique.

Both experiments dated their related specimens in the 50 to 60 thousand year time range, based on the tiny amount of carbon 14 present. This is near the limit of what carbon 14 can date. No scientist would use carbon 14 to date these rocks as we know (for many reasons) that diamonds are some of the oldest rocks on earth, maybe a billion years old, and coal is in the hundreds of millions of years old. The YECs claim that if these rocks were millions or even a billion of years old, there should be no carbon 14. Who says? That has not been established. As a matter of fact, scientists have known that carbon in coal and other fossil-fuel deposits often contains carbon 14, sometimes a lot, sometimes almost none. But it seems to be dependent on the radioactive decay of the surrounding rocks, engerginzine the carbon, causing some atoms to become carbon 14 in situ. For the complex explanation see this article. We know that radiocarbon dating for coal is unreliable for two reasons. Radiocarbon dating can only go back about 60,000 years and we know through other dating techniques, which are far more reliable, date the coal beds to much older dates. Secondly, carbon 14 is being constantly created in some coal beds as the carbon atoms are energized.

You would think that the date the YECs got with this experiment would also disprove their claim that the earth is just six thousand years old, but then they throw in a baseless claim that if you figure in the effects of Noah’s flood, you then arrive at a date for the coal beds of, you guessed it, six thousand years old.

They YECs have used their diamond experiment to spread the false rumor that carbon dating is flawed. First of all, no rational scientist would try to carbon date diamond because diamond carbon is not from a living source, thus we know the percentage of carbon 14 to start, and via other dating techniques, we know that diamonds are very old, far beyond the limits of carbon 14 dating. There is a background carbon 14 in the atmosphere and created in the ground by radioactive processes. This experiment has been used and passed around the internet over and over as proof of a young earth. Rather than me trying to explain it, I do have a video by a scientist who presents the argument against this idea. While the video is not the best technical production, his argument is sound.

So, without fanfare I close out this long discussion about the age of the earth. Again, I want to be clear. It does not bother me on a personal level if someone chooses to believe that the earth is just six thousand years old. On one level it doesn’t matter. But it does matter if you are taught not to trust the experts because of a false narrative that they are working for the devil. God is a god of truth, in my perspective. The more we live in truth, the better we can see his face.

Footnote:

I will be back with simpler articles in the future, about topics that are at least relative to my daily experience. I hope that I will not need to post again about my cancer as it is in remission and, while I’m not where I was in May regarding how well I was feeling, I am much better than I was in the summer.

Thanks again for dropping by.

Mike, Still the Hermit at Loch Eyre.

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