A Review of a Review of the Scorah Book - Leaving the Witnesses

Something is greatly off-base about the New York Times review of Amber Scorah’s new book ‘Leaving the Witnesses’ and it is not Amber. It is the reviewer, C. E. Morgan, who tackles her task with a humanist fervor that merits a review in itself.

She teaches at Harvard Divinity School, per the NYT byline. One wonders what she could possibly teach, or what might be the outcome for students who attend her class—students who presumably went there because they want to learn about God. Her lavish praise of Ms. Scorah’s book: “She teaches us how integrity is determined....by enduring the universe as we find it — breathtaking in its ecstasies and vicious in its losses — without recourse to a God” surely should give those students pause—are they truly in the place they thought they were? Or did they somehow get shunted off into the Atheist Academy? There is such a thing as truth in advertising. 

Ms. Scorah herself, as presented by the Ms. Morgan, is more conventional. Hers is one of the oldest stories of time—of someone disillusioned with her present life, so she reaches out for another, which upon seizing, she finds exhilarating. It is a coming-of-age story, albeit belated. It is a staple of literature.

Since she is ‘leaving the Witnesses’—Jehovah’s Witnesses, a group of Bible-believing Christians—one must at least consider how the Witnesses themselves might have phrased her departure. That can be found in the words of the apostle Paul addressed to Timothy: “Demas has forsaken me because he loved the present world.” Demas himself would not have put it that he “forsook” anyone. He would have presented it as a matter of his eyes at last being opened. “We are regarded as deceivers, and yet we are truthful,” says Paul at 2 Corinthians 6:8. Demas would have been one to say that he had been deceived.

Ms. Morgan cannot be expected to put it as did Paul, but since she teaches at the Divinity school, one might at least expect her to be cognizant of that point of view. Instead, Amber’s departure is a tale of pure heroism for her—that of escape from an “extreme” religion—even worse than a “fundamentalist” religion in her view—and it is “most valuable as an artifact of how one individual can escape mind control.”

“We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one,” says the apostle again. (2 Corinthians 7:2) Demas might have said he had been victimized by all those things. Nevertheless, you say, I was “crafty” and I caught you “by trickery.” (2 Corinthians 12:16) Demas might have said exactly that. Truly, “there is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccles 1:9)

It would appear that any denomination of Christianity would be fundamentalist in Ms. Morgan’s eyes—at least that would be so of any that haven’t interpreted away the resurrection of Christ into oblivion. “The anti-intellectualism of these [fundamentalist] authoritarian movements, their staunch refusal to cede ground to reason and empiricism, often confounds nonbelievers,” and it is hard to believe that she does not count herself as chief of the nonbelievers—never mind what her teaching title might suggest. “How can people devote the totality of their lives to the unseen, the unevidenced?” she laments, seemingly unaware that such was commonplace until relatively recently. Isaac Newton, oft called the father of science, wrote more about religion that he did about mathematics and science combined. “How can faith subsume thinking?” she continues. Her frustration could not be more clear—‘We have fired everything we have at them and yet they keep standing!’

As bad as fundamentalism is, however, it is not as bad in her eyes as an “extreme religion” like Jehovah’s Witnesses. To establish that she has done her homework, she relates that from its 1870 inception, the faith “rejected Christian doctrines it deemed extratextual, including trinitarianism and hell,” as though providing further evidence of descent into superstition, rather than the advance into rationality that it is—early Witness leader C. T. Russell was known within his lifetime as “the man who turned the hose on hell and put out the fire.” The Witness description of death: “extinction or non-being,” is exactly the rationalist view of today, and it is ‘tarnished’ only by their added take of a future resurrection from the dead.

The notion that Christianity should return to its default state Morgan finds “dubious,” as though the inventors of something couldn’t possibly have known what they were doing. Witnesses have a “hierarchy,” as though no other organization does, their publishing constitutes an “empire,” as evidenced by the fact that it still exists, and they have a following who “actively proselytize, warning of an imminent Armageddon,” as though it is wrong to even suggest that an earth carved up into 200 eternally squabbling nations is not exactly what God had in mind.

In short, she found has people—ordinary people for the most part—who disagree with her, and she oozes disdain for them. Children raised in such religion “experience a totalizing indoctrination that so severely limits the formation of an adult psychology that many don’t ever achieve maturity in the way secular society conceives of it...” Necessarily this means that she thinks the adults of that faith are largely immature children. The patronization is simply too much. Any time someone leaves one culture for another, there is some catching up to do—say, in the case of a person migrating from one country to another. Would Ms. Morgan similarly find it necessary to crow her superiority over the country and culture of emigration—where Islam is practiced, perhaps, or Spanish is spoken? She would recoil at the thought, but when it comes to religious views that stray from her worldview, it is as natural to her as breathing air. Let her “world” prove itself reasonably “free from sin” before she casts stones on those who have come to see things differently,

“Witnesses are forbidden to socialize outside the organization,” she says. How enforceable can such “forbidding” be when people live, school, and work in the general community, as Witnesses do? The forbidding amounts to no more than counsel to choose one’s friends wisely—counsel that should hardly be a shocker. It is surprising that the she does not escalate “higher education is discouraged” also into an ironclad rule. When Witnesses partake of the offerings of “higher education,” they usually prefer to take it a la carte.

For all that she might carry on about “mind-control,” it is her environment of higher education that employs a classic tool of it: cut a student off nearly 24/7 from former stabilizing influences to minimize resistance to the absorption of whatever philosophies are taught. It is her environment that normalizes such a drastic shift as no more more remarkable than pursuing health care. Study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, and there is truth in packaging—you know full well that you are going off the grid of standardized thinking. Still, one remains in the most stabilized environment possible—one’s normal routine and surroundings are entirely undisturbed—the “safest” setting in which to give any new ideas a trial run. It is the very opposite of how one “brainwashes” people.

“Questioning doctrine is an offense punishable by disfellowshipping, or shunning,” she says. It is a matter of degree. Each side of societal uproar that we see on the television news presents itself as merely “questioning” the premises of the other. Amber ran out on a “loveless marriage,” Ms Morgan states, and the implication is clear that Jehovah’s Witnesses think loveless marriages are the bee’s knees, since she presents love as the balm that finally wakes Ms. Scorah up. Seemingly to her, there is no way on earth that love that could be found within the repressive religion. Few cheerleaders are unbiased and Ms Morgan is clearly is not an unbiased reviewer.

“The bravery of [the book] cannot be overstated,” she gushes. I suspect that, not only it can be, but it is. Certainly it pales next to the bravery of a migrant who arrives in a strange country with no money, no common language, and often without family. Ms Scorah, on the other hand, has a new-found partner—the same one who introduced her to her new worldview, and who will presumably be there to give support. 

Notwithstanding that anything with which you agree is “highly readable” on that account, I will take for granted that Ms. Scorah’s book is as it is said to be—an “earnest one, fueled by a plucky humor and a can-do spirit that endears.” Perhaps one day I will read it. And yet it does not completely satisfy the reviewer—it shows too much the “the remnants of a Christian modesty not well suited to the task of memoir.” ‘Come on, SPILL!’ one can all but hear Ms. Morgan urge. ‘Blow this “juvenile” “fundamentalist” tripe out of the water!’ as she totally redefines “miracle” as “enduring the universe as we find it — breathtaking in its ecstasies and vicious in its losses — without recourse to a God.” What will be the subject of her next lesson at the Divinity School?

But she has not yet come to the most gripping part. When she does, she foresees another book. “Many readers know Scorah through her viral article in The New York Times about the death of her son on his first day of day care....” she writes. “This, one senses, is her brutal but beautiful route into a new book — a shorter, wiser one, sharp and devastating. Here she reveals a chastened existence, steeped in grief and unknowing without recourse to pacifying religious answers.” THAT is the book I will read even before this one. Ms Scorah has exchanged a backdrop of: “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who are sleeping in death, so that you may not sorrow as the rest do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) for one that reads: “Stuff happens. Pick up the pieces and carry on if you can.” Ms. Morgans reckons that exchange an unmitigated triumph of the human spirit. Is it? The apostle would have reckoned it as “shipwreck of a faith.” (1 Timothy 1:19)

- Tom Harley is a practicing Jehovah’s Witness in the United States.  He does not teach anywhere, but has written the ebooks “Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia,” and “TrueTom vs the Apostates!”

 

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The Author in the Dog Park

I always walk laps at the dog park. I am the only one I have ever seen do so. I don’t know why. When there are other people, they just stand around; sometimes they chat with each other. I am not anti-social, but I can use the exercise every bit as much as the dog—why should he get it all? Walking this fellow has taken 30 points off my blood pressure.

Someone I have not seen before enters the park, and to my surprise, when I start my laps (about two and a quarter miles—I have calculated by pacing it off), he starts walking with me. That’s good. We chat. I say I have never seen him before and he says that he has been out of the country. I ask the reason. He says he is an author of science fiction and he has returned from one of their book conventions. I tell him that I write too—now that the kids are gone and the bills are paid, I get to indulge some interests, and writing is chief among them.

Now, whenever one writer meets another, there is some gentle probing so to determine who is the more successful. You don’t want to appear full of yourself. Best to say something modest, which in my case is entirely appropriate anyhow. So I told him how I had read the following career advise somewhere online:

  1. Ask yourself how many books you have read in the last year written by a totally unknown author,
  2. Now you know why you should not attempt to write for a living.

My companion said, however, that it was not true with him—he was able to make his living through his bookwriting. He was very modest, saying again and again that he was very fortunate, and also that he was in just the right genre—science fiction. I gave him a card for “Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia” and he could not stop asking about it—drawing out from me the story of their persecution, which he knew nothing about. “Watchtower—are they the Mormons?” he initially said.

I am not the Jehovah’s Witness who goes on and on about his own cause and will not let another get a word in edgewise. Quite the contrary. I consistently tried to change the subject back to his writing, and he would not let me. He came coming back to my work. He had no issue at all with my book being free, as my first two were not. “Of course,” he said, “it is a labor of love. You want to get a word out.”

We talked a lot about the marketing of books in all their forms, of which he knew far more than I. It was gratifying to learn that, while there were many things that I did not know, there was nothing that I DID know that was wrong. I told him of my plans to eventually release the books on audio, and how I had been stymied by the CreateSpace site after it merged with Kindle. He said not to even bother with print—he sells ten times the audio versions that he does print, though he qualified his remark that much would depend on the genre.

He had only been to the park once before. He is single, devotes all of his time to writing, and only breaks for the sake of walking his dog. Through some chit-chat on the nature of dogs, he mentioned that the only other time he was at the park, someone else kept walking around doing laps while his dog humped other dogs. “That was probably me,” I told him, and he threw himself into contortions saying that he was sure it wasn’t. No, it probably was, I told him. I have never seen anyone else walk laps—but he swore it was someone else.

It may be as he said, because mine doesn’t really hump other dogs. I mean, he is not obnoxious about it—it is just occasional—rarely does he even give a thought to it—and if he gets that way, I intervene as soon as I am aware. The mutt is fixed anyway.

As he talked about his work, I said that I would love to read some of it. I tried to set up some sort of relationship with him, but, nice as can be, without a bit of pretentiousness, much less condescension (which he would have had every right to do, publishing-wise), he said that it would not happen—he is totally immersed in his science fiction, his books and his fans, and he wouldn’t have time to develop new relations. Essentially, he has no life otherwise, and right now he is consumed with his career. I never did receive any of his work through the email address I gave him, and haven’t seen him since. Ah, well. Did it actually even happen?

BA3E5849-3036-4766-88EF-75292BA64BB0

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A Thirty-Three Tweet Review of Stephen King's On Writing

I don’t do horror, so I have read little @StephenKing, but he knows how to write as I would like to. Listening to ‘On Writing.’ Love the encouragement given him by his hardscrabble Mom. Did she live to enjoy fruits of his success? Alas, at this early stage it seems she did not.

The reason I don’t do horror is that for the longest time I worked alone at night in huge and creaky office/warehouse complexes. You wouldn’t do horror either after one night working there.

Chastened by his grade-school teacher for ‘writing trash,’ @StephenKing (much) later came to reflect that there has probably never been a writer/painter/sculptor/inventor who was not, at one time or another, charged with wasting his ‘God-given talent.’

Mr. Gould at the paper, King’s first writing job, arranged by the school to keep him out of written mischief, said he removed only the few bad parts of @StephenKing’s second newspaper article, and said overall, its pretty good. 'I know', Stephen said about both, and he was forever grateful for the instruction and encouragement.

Who would have thought? One of the most compact accounts of self-denial, late recognition & recovery from substance abuse & cutting through the facades of those in the grip of it, is found in @StephenKing's On Writing

I wonder if @StephenKing ever met Dodie, the mercilessly tormented frumpy schoolgirl who came back from college looking sharp, and was the inspiration for Carrie? Read on.

Oh. She died. The townspeople said ‘post-partum depression’. @StephenKing thought ‘high school hangover’ might have also had something to do with it. He did not like his fictional Carrie or her classmates. But he felt sorry for them all. He had once been one of them.

Now I reach the nitty-gritty of @StephenKing’s On Writing. Hmm. I have long imagined myself a serviceable writer, though sloppy when in haste, but I might be shooting myself in the foot in certain areas. Will I identify them?

I am not reading On Writing, but rather listening on CD. Absorbing involved points is not so easy as merely rereading a sentence or paragraph.

Commas trip me up and are early consequences of editing, usually in favor of taking them out. (except for the Oxford comma) Clear explanation from @StephenKing on why to remove: ‘I want it said in one breath.’

He carries around two books (always unabridged) at all times. @StephenKing has a print book to read during moments of waiting, and a CD book for driving. Not necessarily good books. Crap will do. The latter teach one what to avoid.

John Grisholm’s books are among my favorites, I have read almost all of them, and did not know that the critics sniffed at them. I like @StephenKing‘s take on the ‘lawyers in distress’ genre: Do the same with what you know. Scout out the enemy territory where you have admittance. Bring back a report.

[At this point, there is an aside with other Twitter acquaintances: Hey! This means @EnglishElective could write a ‘teachers in distress’ book. Just like #JohnGrisholm! Yes, honest & noble teachers besieged by evil teachers under the sinister mind-control of Admiral Ass. #UpTheDownStaircase

Admiral Ass was the dean of the high school, a bully who after signing his name to correspondence, appended ‘Adm Asst,’ for Administrative Assistant. I especially remember the aloof and air-headed principal of the novel, who in communications, never used an adjective uncoupled with another adjective meaning exactly the same thing. A further aside begins at this point about how I remember to this day how to spell school principal vs principle: the former is your ‘pal.’]

Uh oh. If you are a writer, get used to it that people will think you rude, @StephenKing says. Too much reading and writing serves to make one inattentive to the outer world. (Better hide this tweet so that my wife does not see it.) His is an easy read because he is not pretentious. Neither is he syrupy, spouting such goo as: ‘There is no such thing as a bad writer.’ There are plenty of them, he says.

You smile as @StephenKing relates his early drafts of Misery even as you say to yourself: ‘You sick bastard.’ But then he mentions two more tales, Insomnia and Deloris Clayborne, both of which movies I saw & liked, and now I should maybe read the books.

An author told @kingsthings how sometimes his characters surprised him. Larry was impressed & asked each successive author: ‘Do your characters ever write themselves?’ He kept doing so even after one hard-boiled author said: ‘Of course not! What a stupid question! They’re not real people. They do what I tell them to. It was not @StephenKing , though. He would have agreed with the first author. Characters do write themselves.

Ayn Rand is the example @StephenKing uses for success due to great storytelling despite wooden characters. Correct, but I would have used Isaac Asimov. Another great storyteller. If only he could have drawn people convincingly.

Yes! ‘Don’t tell them when you can show them,’ @StephenKing says, through dialogue. I add, though I’m sure he will get to it, ‘don’t tell the moral when you can demonstrate it via story.’

After @StephenKing’s character tear-gassed the vicious dog in the eyes & kicked it to death, he was deluged with protest letters. He pointed out that the dog was fictional, that the character was fictional, and that he himself is kind to dogs. He did suggest the action, though, didn’t he?

Every week, @StephenKing says, he gets letters from those who accuse him of racism, homophobia, psychopathy, or just plain being foul-mouthed. Uh oh. Didn’t I call him a ‘sick bastard’ a while back?

If you notice a quirk, @StephenKing says, ‘it does you no good unless you can work it into a character. Say you notice that someone picks his nose when he thinks nobody is looking....’ HEY! WHAT THE HELL IS THAT SICK BASTARD DOING PEERING IN MY WINDOW?!!!

Why am I exploring @StephenKing #OnWriting when my oldest follower and followee himself specializes in the craft? @Underdogsbiteup. We followed each other back when Mr. Twitter was yet in diapers.

You’ll be in stitches as @StephenKing narrates the horrendously trite writing he wants you to avoid. It is ‘pretty as a picture’ And what of the yo-yo who was so unpleasant that nobody could stomach him, thus he never heard dialogue, and to his credit, avoided writing it?

After @StephenKing sneaks yet another sideways glance at his wife to see if she appreciates his draft, which is allowable because he knows she has not noticed, she snaps, ‘Keep your eyes on the road! You’ll kill us both! Stop being so g*****n needy!’

The rejection form letters piled up for teenaged @StephenKing, but then one included the scribbling: ‘Not bad, but puffy. You need to work on length. Formula: ‘2nd draft = 1rst draft minus 10%.’ He took it to heart began to condense on the second draft, rather than add as he had been doing.

When you do research, don’t show off, says @StephenKing. Keep it in the background. Hmm. Like Victor Hugo? An entire chapter of Hunchback of Notre Dame is devoted to the infrastructure of 13th century Paris. It sure wouldn’t wash today.

Did @StephenKing do it for the money? He says no, not one word. He did it for self-expression, the buzz, the pure joy of it. It is like what a fellow Jehovah’s Witness, who knew the person, said about Prince, that he simply had to have his creative outlet. “Maybe he needed it to survive,” she told the papers.

So far as I know, the most extensive account of Prince’s JW life as related in media sources is in my own ebook: Tom Irregardless and Me, where it comprises the entire first chapter.

Whoa! @StephenKing just got hit by a van. (18 years ago) He didn’t see that one coming. Nor did I. On his desk, unfinished, is On Writing. He had better recover, because I want to finish it. The EMT told him at the scene that he would live, but after all was done told him over the phone, ‘I didn’t think you had a chance.’

@Stephen King atypically names the driver who hit him. He names him several times. As though deferring to ying and yang, he also names the doctor who pieced him together, a doctor or great skill, whom he calls ‘formidable.’ I forget the descriptive words King used, but he described his smashed leg somewhat akin to beans in a beanbag. At the accident scene, he was initially concerned to find his lap 90 degrees askew from normal.

Ah. Good. His wife fluffs up a pillow for him and he writes again. He is ‘monogamous by nature,’ he says, and he must be closing in on his 50th anniversary. Regularly he inserts nice words about her into his narrative.

A slightly syrupy ending for On Writing, I thought, but I would have to read it to be sure. Recorded Books saw fit to fade in the music at book’s end, and that dopey decision might have skewed my judgement. If the lines truly are syrupy it will be @stephenking’s first, so they are probably not

Stephen-king-collection

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Ben Franklin Gets Jilted and Flip-Flopping on the Resurrection

Ben Franklin courted the widow of his good friend, but the woman turned him down flat: ‘I could never be untrue to my husband.’ Then, in a dream, he went to heaven and met his good friend. They exchanged pleasantries until the friend presently said: “You must meet my new wife. She’ll be along soon.” Ben Franklin couldn’t believe it. ‘Your earthly wife is more loyal than you!’ he said. She turned me down cold on your account!’ ‘That’s too bad for you,’ the friend said. ‘She is an excellent woman and I missed her terribly at first, but now it is time to move on.’

As Ben Franklin grumbled, the ‘new’ wife showed up and it was Ben’s own deceased wife! Ben Franklin turned his rebuke on her, but she said: ‘I was a good and loyal wife to you for 50 years. Let that be enough for you!’

It is a mangling of Luke 20: 34-36, most likely, botched, but nonetheless used as a starting point. No need to say what is wrong with it. Suffice that it addresses the changed nature of relationships after death:

“Jesus said to them: ‘The children of this system of things marry and are given in marriage, but those who have been counted worthy of gaining that system of things and the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. In fact, neither can they die anymore, for they are like the angels, and they are God’s children by being children of the resurrection.’”

For the longest time Jehovah’s Witnesses took those verses to mean that those who lost a spouse in death would not reunite in the earthly resurrection. The words were in response to a beef of the Saduccees, who did not believe in the earthly resurrection. Jesus went on to speak of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who will benefit from it.

After a certain public talk years ago that had mentioned the verse, a sister raised her had during the chairman’s remarks, something I had never seen before and have not seen again. She was new in the faith, widowed, and she looked forward to reuniting with her husband in the resurrection. She quizzed the chairman until the speaker himself raised his hand and said he would clarify the verse for her afterwards.

About 30-40 years ago, the Witness organization looked at the verses anew and said maybe she could reunite. They didn’t want to be dogmatic. Maybe the verses just applied to those having the heavenly hope, as they were the ones in abundance back then. It can’t even be said of earthly ones “neither can they die anymore.” They can, and surely will, if they show a rebellious spirit. I mean, if you were raised up to life on a paradise earth, would you grumble about the ground rules? And who is the that is "counted worthy" of an earthly resurrection? Essentially, all you have to do to qualify is to show up; it is "the righteous and the unrighteous" who benefit.

Grousers who say that Jehovah’s Witnesses flip-flop on doctrine miss the point. They’ve never said they didn’t. They do it all the time, re-examining verses in the face of accumulating knowledge. It has been called ‘the light getting brighter.’ (Proverbs 4:18) It has also been called tacking. The only ones who say they can’t do it are the grousers themselves.

That said, the major teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding the nature of God (no Trinity), the nature of the soul (not immortal), who goes to heaven (not everybody good, but only a minority), have been firmly in place for over a century. Ridding the false doctrines that make knowledge and a close relationship with God all but impossible is part of the job of ‘the messenger preparing the way.’ The first thing you do in preparing the way for a building project is to take out the trash.

(the Ben Franklin writing is called 'A Proposal to Madame Helvetius')

Franklin-Benjamin-LOC-head

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A Fine Book Review from Ivor E. Tower

Authors like reviews. I received a very kind and lengthy review of Tom Irregardless and Me from Ivor E. Tower. Authors are grateful for a review of one or two lines. Mr. Tower goes several paragraphs and illuminates some of the ‘Tom Irregardless and Me’ characters. He is a non-Witness scholar who has written extensively about Jehovah’s Witnesses and his real name is recognizable to studious readers of Watchtower material:

“Tom Harley’s Tom Irregardless and Me has been described as “a romping and riotous defense of Jehovah's Witnesses and their place in today’s world.” This really sums up the book, which is a light-hearted look at numerous aspects of the Watch Tower Society from the perspective of a practicing Jehovah’s Witness in the US.

“To the outsider, Jehovah’s Witnesses may seem deadly serious and preoccupied exclusively with their religion and the Society’s own publications. Harley dispels this stereotype. The book is about real people and issues, although the author has changed the names of rank-and-file members to preserve name anonymity. Tom Irregardless is an elder who uses the spurious word “irregardless” liberally in his Bible talks. Other characters include John Wheatnweeds, who hinders members from their house-to-house ministry by spending inordinate amounts of time expounding the text of the day before they set out. Then there is posh brandy-sipping Bernard Strawman, who receives frequent visits from the publishers, but continues to raise facile objections to their faith. Vic Vomidog, an apostate, repeatedly seeks to hamper their work. Other chapters are about real JW celebrities such as Prince, who is the subject of an entire chapter.

“Despite being light-hearted throughout, Tom Harley raises serious issues such as flag salutes, Darwinism and creationism, theocratic government, the paedophile scandals and the dangers of online grooming of minors, and the accuracy of the New World Translation of the Bible. Tom shows a remarkable breadth of knowledge and reading too – he has by no means exclusively studied Watch Tower publications.

“My favourite part of the book was the parody of Mickey Spillane near the end, where Tom Harley envisages a house-to-house publisher acting like one of Spillane’s macho characters. For those who don’t know, Spillane was a novelist whose books were renowned for their sex and violence, until Spillane converted to become a Jehovah’s Witness in 1951 – a decision that drastically changed his writing style.

“Tom Hartley states that he hopes Tom Irregardless is “entertaining but serious at heart”. This sums up the book well. It’s a good read, while providing valuable insights into life as a JW.”

I’m very grateful to Mr. Tower. They line up around the block for a recognized name like John Grisham or Stephen King, but it is extraordinary difficult for a new writer to break into the ranks. ‘Recall how many books you have purchased in the past year from a totally unknown writer,” one source advises. “Now you know why you should not become an author."

I was a little worried at first that JW opposers, who can be quite nasty, would try to sink my infant book with horrid reviews, like Herod and the infants of Jerusalem. But now, even if that were to happen, I would draw the contrast between those and 8 glowing reviews and say something like: 'that says it all,' putting it where it first catches the eye. It might even help the book.

Tom Irregardless (1)

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Epochs and Aeons

Tack as many zeroes as you want onto Earth's age. Jehovah's Witnesses have no issue with it. A billion years? Ten billion? One hundred billion? More? Not a problem. That's not to say we endorse it, necessarily. But we'll have no issue with it. Let scientists be scientists.

“In [the] beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” reads the Bible's first verse. This is before the series of creative days commence, that period during which the earth fills with life. Whether each of those days are 24 hours in length, or 24 millenia, or 24 seconds.....it make no difference to the age of “the heavens and the earth.” They were created before.

However, as to the days themselves, what say Jehovah's Witnesses as to that? Even many JWs themselves may not be up to speed, for it was once thought that each day lasted 7000 years...it seemed to fit some prophetic patterns. But that view has been abandoned. (A flip-flop!! I can hear Vic Vomodog screaming now.)

Now, however, each day is described as an “epoch.” And the sum total of them: "aeons":

From the Watchtower of Feb 15, 2011 pp 8-9)

“The Bible goes on to describe what God did during a series of creative days. These are not 24 hour days but are epochs…....By means of his holy spirit, during creative days three through six, God created an astounding variety of plants and animals. …....After aeons had passed and God had produced innumerable animate and inanimate works, the earth was no longer “formless and waste.”

This revision of “day” stems from recognition that the Hebrew word need not refer to only the 24 hour variety. Even on the first creative “day,” “God began calling the light Day, but the darkness he called Night,” apparently as the thick clouds enshrouding the earth began to clear, allowing sunlight to reach the surface. So the entire period is a “day,” and also a portion of it is a “day!” Furthermore, after all six creative days are described, the Genesis account refers to all of it as a “day':

This is a history of the heavens and the earth in the time of their being created, in the day that Jehovah God made earth and heaven.    Gen 2:4

Okay? “Day” need not be 24 hours. It can be simply an non specific period of time. Even in English, we've all suffered old-timers carrying on about life “back in my day.” And if scripture doesn't insist otherwise, why squabble when scientists put forth numbers on life's development? We're not anti-science. Science is a powerful tool of discovery. We've nothing against it. To be sure, we don't see it as the be-all and end-all, and when scientists say “jump!” we don't instantly respond “how high?” But we're willing to acquiesce where there's no Biblical conflict. And in the matter of “days”, there is none. Far from being rigid (a frequent criticism), the Witness stand allows for incorporating findings of science.

So it appears with this piece that I might conclude my Sean B Carroll trilogy, the prior two installments of which are here and here. His book impressed me....a book from an evolutionist published post genome mapping. I wonder if our stand on Genesis is good enough for him. Probably not, for he appears to want no trace of God in any evolutionary goings on, whereas we've said  (above) “by means of his holy spirit, during creative days three through six, God created an astounding variety of plants and animals.” But when Sean is muttering about the denyers....yes, yes, I know its a misspelling, but he apparently does it for the silly reasons given here, and I am this close to being equally silly and calling the other guys evolootionists....you know....'loo', the British term for toilet......but I just can't make myself be that juvenile, at least not yet. At any rate, Sean laments the denyers are “those straitjacketed by biblically based interpretations of the age of the Earth.” Like most everyone else, he takes for granted that fundamentalists truly represent the Bible....an assumption that burns me up to no end.

Of course, we're not that way. Straitjacketed, I mean. We're not 24 hour people. We've no problem with epochs and aeons. Ought that not make Sean happy?

Now, it occurs to me that if the Biblical days are as long as scientists say they are, well....that allows plenty of time for the evolutionary goings on that Sean Carroll talks about to go on....with the consequence that evolution, in the main, is a battle that we need not fight. Not that we have to endorse it. But much like the age of the “heavens and the earth,” we need not take much exception to it. As that Feb 2011 Watchtower states, “by means of his holy spirit, during creative days three through six, God created an astounding variety of plants and animals.” That's not very specific as to method, is it? Might the method through which holy spirit delivers be the one scientists describe? Dunno if that is the case, or to what extent, but I do know that if God molded each “kind” like a potter molding clay on a potter's wheel....well.....he could do that in a literal 24 hour day. So what's the point of the epochs and aeons? Frankly, life programmed to adapt via accumulation of genetic change strikes me as no less miraculous than potter-created life.

No one's being dogmatic, here. Science is accommodated to the maximum extent without ignoring Scripture, which we ultimately consider the most reliable guide to life. The 2010 brochure Was Life Created? states: (page 27) ImagesCAVUV1FW Were these original “kinds” of plants and animals programmed with the ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions? What defines the boundary of a “kind”? The Bible does not say. However, it does state that living creatures “swarmed forth according to their kinds.” (Genesis 1:21) This statement implies that there is a limit to the amount of variation that can occur within a “kind.” [bolded print mine] Thus, our current view allows for what's described as micro-evolution (within a “kind”) but not macro-evolution (outside of a kind). But “implies” is not an ironclad word, is it? The point is, for the Christian, if the time element for developing life is indeed epochs and aeons, you need not squabble much with scientists who describe it. Let scientists be scientists. We'll teach the Bible.

What about this statement immediately preceding the lines quoted above: Does this progressive appearance of plants and animals imply that God used evolution to produce the vast diversity of living things? No. The record clearly states that God created all the basic “kinds” of plant and animal life. (Genesis 1:11, 12, 20-25) “Evolution”, as Sean Carroll and others like to describe it, strictly excludes all hints of “programming,” and they positively choke on any mention of “holy spirit.” But if you go and retrieve those words from the dumpster into which they've been tossed, you'll do just fine. For today we recognize a strong (and unnecessary) anti-God element among the evolutionists. From the same brochure (Was Life Created?  page 22):

Why do many prominent evolutionists insist that macroevolution is a fact? Richard Lewontin, an influential evolutionist, candidly wrote that many scientists are willing to accept unproven scientific claims because they “have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.” Many scientists refuse even to consider the possibility of an intelligent Designer because, as Lewontin writes, “we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

 In this regard, sociologist Rodney Stark is quoted in Scientific American as saying: “There’s been 200 years of marketing that if you want to be a scientific person you’ve got to keep your mind free of the fetters of religion.” He further notes that in research universities, “the religious people keep their mouths shut.”  

Now, I admit, I'm a bit fearful of using these quotes lest grousers suppose I'm implying that the above fellows reject evolution. They don't. “Quote mining” is the charge grousers may level, and who wants to be guilty of that? But I've already dealt with the subject here. I don't know what else I can do. You should never play the God/no-God game with atheists according to their rules, since their primary rule is that you can't move any of your pieces.

But with the acceptance of epochs and aeons, vast areas of conflict between the science camp and the JW camp vanish, and others become largely immaterial. Not all, to be sure. The creation of Adam remains a topic on which I don't yet see grounds for agreement. From that same Feb 15th Watchtower: “Yet, Jehovah had not finished using his spirit for creative purposes. He was about to produce his highest earthly creation. Toward the end of the sixth creative day, God created man. How did Jehovah do so? By using his holy spirit and the elements of the earth.”

Yet if the Watchtower has taken to interviewing guys like Michael Behe, who accepts evolution in the main, but acknowledges it has limits, well.....I mean.....they wouldn't do that if the two hated each others' guts. Our people are not being dogmatic here. They recognize where other views can be accommodated, and are not so presumptuous as to try to instruct scientists on their own turf.

I thought I might be the first to blog such a subject, but no! When googled 'Michael Behe' and 'Awake interview', I find there is a discussion some time ago on “is the Watchtower preparing to accept evolution?” I suppose I should link to it, but I'm not going to. It's a sorehead grouser site, largely populated by those who've abandoned spiritual things upon discovery that God is not Santa Claus....that he does more than just give us stuff, that he has requirements, that the Christian course involves sacrifice and self-discipline, and is not just opening presents, and....gasp!....it involves human organization, which may sometimes decide matters contrary to one's individual preference!.....a violation of freedom and independence!!!! These type of guys exasperate me. Find them yourselves if you must.

Plus, they view any such adjustment in JW viewpoint as a slick marketing ploy. For me any modification of view stems from recent scientific ability to read the genome....to grow fast-reproducing goo and slime, and to track each and every gene involved and spot which ones have reproduced faithfully and which ones have not and what are the accumulated effects of those that did not. It's a major tangible advance for science, and while fundamentalists might ignore it, we don't.

Well, if you were impressed with Sean Carroll's book so much, Mr Sheepandgoats, then why don't you let him dictate everything to you....he makes no allowance for programming or God or holy spirit. The answer is that I've chosen the Christian course represented by Jehovah's Witnesses based upon several lines of reason, present scientific opinion being but one of them.

In the main, it becomes apparent that the greater conflict is not between the Bible (and us) and science. It's between the fundamentalists and science. These religious characters do the same with “day” that they do with trinity and hellfire. They take words and phrases literally....words which in any other context they would instantly recognize as metaphor. If they read of someone shedding “crocodile tears” in a novel, they know exactly what that expression means. If they read it in the Bible, they take it as PROOF that the shedder is a crocodile, since the Bible MEANS what is SAYS and SAYS what it MEANS. They exasperate me to no end, since they make the Bible an object of ridicule to anyone deciding to use the brain God gave us.

 

[edit: 1/20/2012,  see interview between New Republic's John McWhorter and Michael Behe. Sean Carroll & his work comes in for mention, around the 11-12, 22-24 minute marks. He's a nice guy, Behe says.]

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Tom Irregardless and Me                     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Sean Carroll and the Den Yers

He's a smart fellow, Sean Carroll is, author of The Making of the Fittest. Nobody here is saying otherwise. I've said kind things about his  book, ImagesCAJLGK1X for the most part, and may in time say more. But.....hang it all.....how come he can't spell deniers? He takes aim in the latter portion of his book at those who deny evolution, and again and again he misspells the word. It's not d-e-n-y-e-r-s! It's d-e-n-i-e-r-s! Any schoolboy knows this. Why doesn't he?

Check it in your shelf dictionary. Check an on-line dictionary. Check a Scrabble dictionary; if anyone can stretch a word for acceptable spelling variations, it will be a Scrabble player. Google the odd spelling, if you like. It doesn't matter where you check. One who denies something is a denier, not a denyer! Let's be honest. You can't read that word without thinking...... “den'-yer? 'What the heck is that?”

Well, maybe denyer is the British spelling of the term (notwithstanding that Carroll hails from Wisconsin).....I admit I'm grasping at straws. We all know Brits can't spell properly, just as they can't pronounce properly. Or maybe, in that rarefied scientific world Sean inhabits, they have dispensed with plebian spellings, in favor of lofty revisions more appropriate to their scientific status. Or maybe it's a deliberate misspelling....his attempt at tweaking the idiots...those, in his view, who do deny evolution. But that seems a bit mean-spirited, and I don't think he's that kind of guy. Plus, it seems an inside joke that even most insiders would miss. Or.....you don't suppose that Carroll's quirky spelling is just an application of his own theory? Has the 'i' mutated into a 'y'?

None of these hypotheses make much sense. They're all lame. And don't misunderstand.  It's just spelling. It's not that big of a deal. It really isn't. But....blast it all....IT IS! It's like the pebble in my shoe that doesn't seem big at first, but drives me crazy (is that the purpose?) the more I walk on it. Sean Carroll's been to college. And grad school. And doctorate school. How come he doesn't know to spell? And what about his editors? What good are they if they can't catch something so blatant? The Ministry School guidebook counsel keeps nagging at me: if you are incorrect in some detail, no matter how obscure or irrelevant, invariably someone will pick up on it and say “huh......he doesn't know that?” And from there it's just a tiny hop to “Maybe he doesn't know anything else, either.”

When I go to his web page, I see he introduces himself with the same Michael Ruse snippet with which I introduced him: “Of all the scientists in the world today, there is no one with whom Charles Darwin would rather spend an evening than Sean Carroll.” That means he thinks like me (or I like him). I tell you, I come to like this fellow more and more. And evolution books like his written post genome mapping advance their case in a powerful way. Why mess it up with a spelling blunder that any orangutan would get right? This makes no sense at all.

Ah well, Sheepandgoats, get over it. Figure it's a mystery. Like the Trinity. Just accept it.

Okay, I will. Enough said.

 

But it's hard to just get over it because he repeats the error so many times! Carroll likens his book to a full course meal, served in courses (not unlike how Jehovah's Witnesses are apt to describe their meetings as “spiritual meals,” their assemblies as “spiritual feasts!”). His after-dinner dessert conversation, it turns out, consists of a strategy session on how to counter the denyers, some of whom (gasp!) are to be found within his own ranks: “There are some individuals with scientific credentials who doubt or deny certain elements of evolutionary science that are widely accepted by the scientific community; some may even doubt the entire theory,” he observes. “But getting a doctoral degree and making negative arguments are relatively easy – making new, verifiable discoveries is an altogether different matter. The denyers specialize is rhetoric and the mining of quotes, not in laboratory research.   (pg 218)

I'm not so sure I agree with his premise. Even if making “negative arguments” really is “relatively easy,” that does not mean those arguments are not useful. Must everyone be out turning over rocks and growing stuff in petri dishes? Is there not a place for someone to review the conclusions of the discoverers, much as attorneys review evidence collected by the police? They don't just accept police conclusions. Frankly, whenever folks are running herd-like in any discipline, the arguments of those who oppose are always worth looking at closely. You don't just sneer at them because they are the minority.

I'll bet he's taking aim primarily at Michael Behe, king of all the denyers with scientific background, who was even interviewed by Awake! magazine back in September 2006. Behe certainly has “scientific credentials,” and he “doubt[s] or deny[s] certain elements of evolutionary science that are widely accepted by the scientific community.” Behe doesn't doubt that the mechanics of evolution took place, and are taking place still. He has no problem with mutation and gene duplication and fossilized genes. It's hard to have a problem with these since scientists today can grow goo and slime and algae, life forms which reproduce very quickly, and can track each and every gene. They can spot which ones reproduced faithfully, and which ones did not. They can spot which ones build with successive generations, and which ones do not. They can then compare with the genomes of prior life forms and try to piece together how evolution has progressed through generations.

Michael Behe endorses all of this. ImagesCAWYSASV  2nd He simply maintains it doesn't add up to what Carroll and most others say it adds up to, that there's an edge.....the “Edge of Evolution,” per the title of his 2007 book..... beyond which pure Darwinian randomness cannot carry developing life. Follow along on his own blog as he discusses research of the day. It's interesting stuff.

And...man...is he ever castigated for not holding the party line! His book, critics rail, is a blatant attempt to bypass scientific peer review! He takes his case directly to the unwashed masses, unlearned dolts who are in no way qualified to render an opinion! No such objection is made to Carroll's own books, since his represents the majority view. Now, you know I'm going to be sympathetic to Behe's position, since it is much like Jesus' position. Jesus didn't first present his case to religious leaders of his day to secure their prior approval, since he knew their only interest would be to shoot it down. He went over their heads, directly to the common people. And did he ever catch heat from those leaders! Listen to them grouse (and note their contempt for the regular folk):

"Not one of the rulers or of the Pharisees [us] has put faith in him [Jesus], has he? But this crowd that does not know the Law are accursed people."

Look what happens when one of their number....a first-century Behe counterpart?.....breaks ranks:

Nicodemus, …..who was one of them, said to them: “Our law does not judge a man unless first it has heard from him and come to know what he is doing, does it?” In answer they said to him: “You are not also out of Galilee, are you? [a big-city Jerusalem slur against the stupid bumpkins from the rural hills of Galilee]  John 7:48-52

But there's another point Carroll makes, a point that dovetails very well for Jehovah's Witnesses, though not at all for the fundamentalists (which we are not). I'll lead off with it in a future post.

….....................................

By the way, Sean B Carroll is not to be confused with Sean M Carroll, a scientist atheist to the core, even though he doesn't fly the Atheist Scarlet A on his blog, perhaps out of respect for Nathaniel Hawthorne. I don't know if Sean B is atheist or not. He doesn't say. Although both are accomplished science writers in overlapping fields, a more dissimilar looking pair you've never seen.

 

[edit: 1/20/2012,  interview between National Republic's John McWhorter and Michael Behe. Sean Carroll & his work comes in for mention, around the 11-12, 22-24 minute marks. He's a nice guy, Behe says.]

[edit   update here]

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Tom Irregardless and Me                   No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Ryan, Sean Carroll, and the Leprechauns

“Of all the scientists in the world today, there is no one with whom Charles Darwin would rather spend an evening than Sean Carroll.” So says Michael Ruse, author of The Evolution-Creation Struggle. Hmmm....well, how does he know? Maybe if Sean met the Great Man, the latter wouldn't be able to stand him. Sort of reminds me of that passage in Up the Down Staircase where the student gets an F for wrongly interpreting a poem. He protests, but the grade stands. It even stands when he brings the poet himself to class, and the poet says yes..that's exactly what he meant when he wrote his poem. Nonetheless, the incident does change school policy. From that point on, only dead poets are the subject of essays. It's much easier to make assertions after someone has died.

But this is just idle chatter to fill up a paragraph. I've nothing against Sean Carroll. No doubt he's a great guy. Probably, Charles Darwin would indeed salivate over the prospect of meeting him. At any rate, a certain blogger named Ryan read Carroll's book The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution and was effusive in his praise. It moved him to marvel how he himself could ever have failed to march to the evolutionist drumbeat. Once, he had believed creation. But that's all history now. Science has simply come so far. Now it's evolution all the way!

See, scientists today have mapped the genome. They can read the DNA in existing creatures, even the “fossil DNA”. This DNA sequence is found here, and here, but not there. These two beings share x percent of their DNA, those two beings y percent. This critter has a certain sequence of DNA, and so does that critter from a faraway time and place! So like a giant game of Clue, evolutionists run numbers, and make deductions about the development of life.

The evolution theory is now firmly proved, Ryan concludes. “People who believe otherwise are no different in any major respect than flat earth proponents or people who believe in leprechauns.” To be sure, he says, “It is possible that a thinking person could have doubted evolution 100 years ago or even 50 years ago but now those days are past.” Sigh....presumably he, as a foremost example of both thinking person and one-time creation adherent, left the creation camp the last day it was possible for a thinking person to still believe it, and switched off the light on his way out.

I wasn't in the mood. I took him up on his “it is possible that a thinking person could have doubted evolution 100 years ago or even 50 years ago...” That point was not conceded 100 years ago or even 50 years ago, I commented. Then, as now, the mantra was “People who believe otherwise are no different in any major respect than flat earth proponents or people who believe in leprechauns.” We all know it. To these guys, evolution was unquestionable fact the day Darwin stepped off the boat. Will DNA analysis prove to be the silver bullet that, once and for all, establishes evolution? Should I lose my cookies when they claim - this time for sure - to have found the ultimate trump card? I'm not ready to bolt just yet. We've heard that claim many times before.

Still, I haven't exactly read anything by evolutionists lately in their own words. Ooh...wait. Yes I did. I read Carl Zimmer's Evolution: the Triumph of an Idea (2001). (and worked it into a post here) But that was a book on CD. Maybe that's not really reading. At any rate, maybe it's time for another book, especially since the evolutionists say they have new ammo.  What have these guys been up to since decoding the DNA? I picked up Sean Carroll's book, since he is Darwin's favorite.

And......upon reading the book, it seems to me that the biologists have made great strides in an aspect of evolution that Jehovah's Witnesses barely had any problems with in the first place, that of micro-evolution. That is, variation within that vague Biblical term “kind.” The stuff of animal husbandry, and selective breeding. The science behind the proliferation of superbugs, now that overuse of antibiotics has eliminated all the wimpy germs. They've found the workings behind such things, the mechanics of it, and.....does it indeed involve glitches in gene duplication culled by natural selection? Apparently, we are to be so awed by these findings, that we readily extrapolate them in macro-evolution (one “kind” emerging from another “kind”), where the footing is much less firm.

First, we begin with a discussion of the icefish, a significant variation within the fish “kind,” to be sure. These creatures live where it's too cold to exist without a form of antifreeze within their blood. The blood itself is not red, lacking hemoglobin. Then some explanation as to just how mutations occur. Breaking the genetic code has enabled scientists to track these things on a much more intricate level than ever before, and....well....you have to respect that. Then other chapters track, for example, the development of color vision. Here's a discussion of “fossil” DNA, remnants of one time functional genes which have deteriorated due to "use it or lose it" syndrome, their possessors entering new surroundings. And much discussion of the forensic record revealed.

But aren't people mistaking tonnage for proof? Like the time I strove to prove a matter of property ownership to the city, and my lawyer opined that submitted materials simply had to “weigh enough?” All this abundant stuff is consistent with evolution. But that's not the same as proving it, for it is equally consistent with creation. Yet these guys carry on as if every gene they discover is the final coup de grace to creation, as if created life would have Bible scriptures in their genes, and not DNA. Look, wheels are common to all vehicles, yet they were all manufactured. You might, by studying changes in design, figure out, in time, the order of the manufacture, the descent and relationships of various automakers, but you have nothing to suggest they were not manufactured.

But repeat anything often enough and forcefully enough and people begin to think there must be something to it. It's just the way we are. Precious little in this book deals with macro-evolution. And there's nothing at all mentioned, so far as I can see, with regard to the third leg of the evolution Trinity: that of origin itself from non-living materials. It's all micro-evolution, variation within a biblical kind. But there's little to suggest any......oh...wait....Sean addresses it here (pg192):

“Much of the resistance to Darwin's theories was or is based on doubts about the validity of such extrapolations (e.g, not accepting the “adding up” of effects over vast periods of time). To this point in the book I, too, have implied a degree of extrapolation.” Whereupon he devotes some pages, but not too many, to describe parallels of development in vastly different life forms, with the footnote that material about macro-evolution is to be found in another book of his....to be fair, one he has already written, not one he has yet to write. Then there follows on page 215 a certain “coaching” section climaxing in how to answer creationists, in which Carroll discouragingly leaves his research to turn political. Ah, well, he's the author, so I guess he can go anywhere he likes. Besides, he does liken this part to the after-dinner conversation, where the learned ones tilt back in their chairs while the less learned tend to the cleaning up or knitting, and say “now what are we going to do about these infernal creationists?”

You know, I will read that other book eventually. I doubt I'll get to it right away. Alas, I must go to work every day. And carry on my normal routine. And do my best to dodge Mrs. Sheepandgoats when she comes around to inform that this or that aspect of the house is falling down. In the meantime, jihad may strike, or WWIII, or the earth itself may fry from any number of always increasing man-made threats. Or the Great Great Depression might commence, since anyone who knows anything says forces which triggered the late financial meltdown are still firmly in place, entirely uncorrected. Moreover, the good news continues to be preached, of which I have a share, since unfolding calamities are all in accord with the Bible's overall message that human rule can end in nothing but chaos. An intense anti-religious air takes hold among the world's movers and shakers, a natural and Revelation-foretold (Rev 17:16) consequence of centuries of outrages in the name of God. Has anyone other than Jehovah's Witnesses pointed to such a occurrence?

So it will come, reading that second book, but in due time. Meantime, and ironically, Ryan has removed his post from the web, along with his entire blog, so far as I can see. You can no longer pull it up. But I remembered key words, and by googling them, and then googling again the results, I was able to reconstruct the original. Yes, I tracked forensic fossilized google snippets! You can do the same using key words like Ryan, evolution, flat earth, and leprechauns. But only if you are an evolutionist. Fossilized google evidence is not something creation people know how to handle and we don't believe in it for a second.

[edit...Update here.

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Tom Irregardless and Me                     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Chief Superintendent Maigret

My all time favorite author says he's slept with 10,000 women in the course of his life. You gotta admit, that's a lot. From my virtuous vantage point, one wonders if it is even possible. Actually, he didn't say it himself, but it was some reporter who knew his habits made the calculation, and he said 'yeah....that sounds about right.'

The author is Geoges Simenon (1903-1989), largely unknown in the U.S, but one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century, and familiar everywhere else. Many of his novels are so sordid - should one be surprised? - you almost can't read them. I haven't gotten through many, and my motivation to do so quickly wanes. His own mother complained “"Why don't you ever write a book about nice people and good Catholics, instead of all these criminals?'" Indeed, I might not know of this author at all were it not for one remarkable fact: his most famous character, Chief Superintendent Maigret, protagonist of over 100 books and short stories – all murder mysteries - is as upright as his creator is decadent. One almost imagines the author inventing him as a sort of therapy, as if pining like a Michael Jackson of yesteryear for a normality that was never his. (not that he ever expressed any regret over the 10,000)
 
The impossibly cozy home scenes of Chief Superintendent Maigret and Mdm. Maigret play almost as novelettes within novels – typifying that old-fashioned safe harbor that a person longs for after slogging it out in the rough-and-tumble world. Was marriage ever so tranquil, its participants so companionable? Don’t expect any racy sex scenes here nor even strong emotion, just pure domestic pleasantry. After solving a tough case, there is no better pastime for Maigret than to stroll arm in arm with his wife to the movies.

You wouldn’t expect a series of murder stories would be joyful, but joy, good humor, and a sheer love of life, permeate the Maigret series. Maigret loves nothing more than to roam the streets of Paris, tracking all clues himself, interviewing whomever he can – page after page is unattributed dialog – defying superiors who want him to focus on bureaucratic drudgery and delegate the interesting stuff to underlings. Its from him I learned to savor bistros, sipping coffee or some such beverage (always alcoholic for him) absorbing the comings and goings of passerby. If he must catch a bus, hopefully its an open platform one, not one of those new-fangled jobs that imprison its passengers. He employs patience and plodding police work, and he benefits from the easy camaraderie of his staff. He absorbs scenes and people and clues almost subconsciously, and he arrives at the truth as much through intuition as deduction – not like that insufferable smart-ass Sherlock Holmes on the other side of the channel, who barely notices it’s people he’s dealing with - an atheist, I'm sure - who is wont to reduce everything to ciphers, and who, when case is closed, doesn't go home to his wife but snorts cocaine instead. 

It’s as though Simenon channels all his love of life into these Maigret novels, and reserves his darker broodings (of which he has many) for other works. If there are sordid characters in a Maigret mystery, they are to be found among those he must investigate – do the French really do nothing but tipple and visit mistresses? Or is that only in the author’s mind? Meanwhile, Maigret and his colleagues embody the very essence of normality (just like the police in real life!).

Maigret mysteries explore subtle psychological themes, themes rarely touched upon in popular literature - the interactions of class distinction, for one. Here, Maigret does not have the advantage. He's not an Hercule Poirot, able to look down on all the rest of humanity. The Chief Superintendent is solidly middle class, son of a peasant. Here are excerpts from one of my favorite Maigrets – Maigret in Retirement, in which the Chief is summoned to investigate shadiness amongst the upper crust, and the sleaziest fellow turns out to be an old schoolmate, lowly enough back then, but wealthy and full of himself now:

As the two men were walking along the river bank, it must have looked as though one was holding the other on a leash, and Maigret, as sullen and clumsy as a big shaggy dog, was letting himself be pulled along....The fact was that he was ill at ease….Moreover, he hated people who suddenly spring up out of your past to pat you on the shoulder and address you familiarly....Ernest Malik, in short, represented a type of humanity that had always aroused his aversion.

The fellow strode along with the utmost unconcern, free and easy in his beautifully cut white flannel suit, physically fit, with glossy hair and no hint of sweat on his skin despite the heat. He was already playing the great nobleman showing off his estates to a yokel. "This is where my domain begins...I've a few small boats, since one's got to amuse oneself somehow in this Godforsaken place...Do you like sailing?"

What irony there was in his voice as he asked the heavily-built Superintendent if he liked sailing in one of the slender skiffs visible between the buoys!

And Malik, with an ever more casual air, like a pretty woman toying carelessly with a jewel worth millions, seemed to be saying: "Take a good look, you great lout. This place belongs to Malik, to little Malik whom all of you contemptuously call the Tax-Collector because his father spent his days in a dark office, behind a grating."...Some Great Danes came up to lick his hands and he accepted their humble homage with indifference.

…And in fact Maigret was ill at ease in this setting. Even the surroundings, too smooth and harmonious, irritated him. He felt no petty jealousy but an actual loathing of that immaculate tennis court, of the well-fed chauffeur whom he had seen polishing the sumptuous car. The landing -stage with its diving boards, its small boats moored all round, the swimming-pool, the trimmed trees, the smooth unblemished gravel paths were all part of a world into which he entered reluctantly and in which he felt terribly clumsy.

What Witness of Jehovah hasn’t been there, and felt the subtle condescension of the la-de-da, the stifling atmosphere of wealth? It’s a curious fact that in the public ministry you might find yourself discussing the Bible in a run-down inner city home one hour and in some great imposing manor the next, and be comfortable in both. I’m grateful anytime that happens - that experience of transcending class boundaries - somewhat mirroring this description of Jesus from The Man From Nazareth:

Alike in public and in private he associated with men and women on equal terms. He was at home with little children in their innocence and strangely enough at home too with conscience-stricken grafters like Zacchaeus. Respectable home-keeping women, such as Mary and Martha, could talk with him with natural frankness, but courtesans also sought him out as though assured that he would understand and befriend them . . . His strange unawareness of boundaries that hemmed ordinary people in is one of his most characteristic qualities.

Of course, you're not as likely to be invited inside in the wealthier areas, for the loftier a man's home the more full of himself he becomes, so that he readily imagines himself above fraternizing with some door-to-door minister - a visitor with an inherently humble role. Still, it does happen - receptive people may be found anywhere - and no sooner do you start judging people when you come across someone who overturns all your tidy notions of what to expect.

Again, from Maigret in Retirement (for as usual, the Chief Superintendent does get his man):

With such men, one had a difficult moment to go through, the moment when in spite of oneself one is impressed by their fine houses, their cars, their servants, their manner....One must come to see them like the rest, naked and unadorned...

Isn’t it really just as Prov 18:11 observes?

The valuable things of the rich are his strong town, and they are like a protective wall in his imagination?  

The definitive web resource for all things Maigret is http://www.trussel.com/f_maig.htm. Check it out. Here is a webmaster who keeps up with things both substantial and trivial. If Life Magazine ran an article on the Chief Superintendent sixty years ago, Trussel has it. There is even a forum section. Many months ago, I submitted a review of one of my favorite Maigrets, but it wasn't published. I sulked and sulked but then I got over it. Is the forum even open to all and sundry? Or maybe Truffle didn't think the review was any good. That's always plausible. These folks are really into Maigret...real aficionados, and perhaps not too indulgent with amateurs.

I'm never certain how many Maigrets, if any, I've yet to read. Simenon wrote in French, and only gradually did they trickle into English. His last Maigret I just discovered browsing in the library: Maigret and the Killer. (not to be confused with Maigret and the Killers, an entirely different book) It wasn't on the shelves, though. The librarian said it was in storage, deep in the bowels of the building, and she'd go get in for me. Um...were there other Maigrets down there? I thought to ask only upon her return. Yes, there were quite a few, was the reply. Cool!!! Now there’s a summer pastime! If I'm late with an upcoming post or two, you'll know why.

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Tom Irregardless and Me                No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)