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A way of examining religion and its aspects

One of the blindest, most irritating bicker-fest categories I see is that over what constitutes religion. A good example involves Judaism, where some people who do not embrace the religious principles still identify as Jewish. I know people who don’t follow the LDS faith, and who even identify as jack (or jill) Mormons, but the point is they still consider themselves Mormon on some level. We have people who actively pray for spiritual beings to do their will, yet are careful to toss in the caveat that they hope their own will to be that of their spiritual being.

None of it would entail bickering if it were not for people trying to exclude one another from a given religious tent. I think these are akin to the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, typically an appeal to purity. It does matter to writers, and not only from a philosophic or cosmological standpoint. If a writer is going to incorporate any form of religion or spirituality into fiction, that writer must surely have a sense of the components of faith and practice that combine to form what we refer to as a religion. The subject has fascinated me ever since taking Sociology 349 at UW with Prof. Rodney Stark, one of the foremost scholars in the field of sociology of religion.

Let’s look at the various components of a belief system, some of which not all belief systems may address. As I see it, it is possible for a given individual to embrace some aspects but not others. Does that make that person not of that religion? That’s where the bicker-fests come in. Rather than have another such fest, we can take steps at least to create a belief system parfait of sorts:

Cosmology: Most religions propose to explain origins. Where did the universe come from? Where did people come from? Some embrace scientific explanations but venerate specific mythos. Some will insist that their own mythos constitute science.

Divinity: If there are divine beings, what is their nature? How many might there be? Do we know? Can we ever know? Or is it all a creation of the human mind? Faiths run this gamut, but whether or how a belief system addresses divinity is key to understanding it. The question of afterlife, if any, seems to straddle the worlds of cosmology and divinity. If there is an afterlife, it seems, a cosmology defines it and a divinity performs triage.

Magic: Most religions teach that people can influence their environments and outcomes. Some teach that this is done through appeals to divine beings (prayer, ultimatums, etc.); others teach that the power is within ourselves. Some would wet themselves over the application of this label to some forms of prayer, but to my eye those are simply another form of magic: the statement that one’s own judgment or desire should prevail.

Such are the perpetually unprovable factors. Their unprovability has never stopped people from fighting about them, naturally. Agnosticism doesn’t know whether or not there’s anything to any of those. Atheism asserts that there isn’t. But there are more:

Philosophy: How should we live our lives? What acts and perspectives are morally acceptable? Which are abhorrent? Into this category falls all definition of what Judaism calls a mitzvah (good deed) or what many religions call a sin (bad deed, ranging from minor to unpardonable). This one came into focus for me because most of us at times will face ethical dilemmas. I asked myself: “If my religion doesn’t help me figure out a right and valuable handling of these situations, what the hell good is it?” I might not be the only person who ever asked him/herself that.

Ethnicity: In many cases religion defines ethnicity to a degree. In the Serbo-Croatian-speaking world, Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs share a slightly varied common language in which one’s religious identification is part and parcel of one’s ethnic identity. Judaism considers Jewish anyone born to a Jewish mother. There are those professing Asatru who allege that only those of Germanic heritage may be Asatru. (There are Asatruar such as myself who reject this notion as bigoted and ridiculous.) This matters because it’s one thing to profess a faith; it is quite another to join an ethnicity, and in some cases problematic.

Culture: If religion is not necessarily an ethnicity, I find that it always develops a culture and a sense of cultural identity. Let’s take the Latter-Day Saint movement as mentioned earlier. Someone raised in the LDS church will surely gain some cultural overlay from it; same is true of Wicca, or the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, or Chasidic Judaism. Someone not raised in a religious culture may seek to embrace it as an aspect of embracing that faith.

Evolutionism: No, not that. By this I mean a sense of whether religion should evolve or remain unchanged. How conservative (in the philosophic meaning of the term, not the faction label) should religion be? Must today’s Lutheranism be precisely the same as that of Martin Luther? (Evidently there are several different notions of that, or where it should go. Having been raised in a branch of the Lutheran faith, I have some personal experience with this.) We might examine Islam and its varying views on the subject, and we would find that the two largest branches differ on the rightful mantle of leadership post-Muhammad, so they differ not just on evolution of the belief system, but the departure point for any such evolution. It is akin to racers who do not concur on the starting line and stance.

I find that this compartmentalization helps me to look at any belief system by removing the conflation tendency that runs rife through most such discussions. If one person is arguing philosophy, and another is arguing cosmology, and both are insisting that philosophy and cosmology cannot be separated, they can’t even agree on what they are discussing. Of course they will never find common ground, nor even understand each other. One is talking about soil chemistry and the other is talking about marketing harvested crops.

In editing, I use this outlook to develop perspective on clients’ religious presentations in fiction. While I can imagine it playing a part in non-fiction, I’m most likely to encounter it in fiction because most religious authors aren’t terribly comfortable with an editor not of their faith.

This perspective is evolving. I may feel differently two years from now.

As this is the last blog post of the 2020 Dumpster Fire of a Year, I want to thank everyone who has been a reader and commenter during this time. May you all have an excellent 2021.

4‌ ‌Styles‌ ‌of‌ ‌Writing‌ ‌and‌ ‌How‌ ‌to‌ ‌Decide‌ ‌Which‌ ‌to‌ ‌Use — Jerry Jenkins | Proven Writing Tips

JK here: I found this a good description of differing styles. As with editing, most people don’t know different modes exist. Enjoy.


Your goal, whether writing fiction or nonfiction, should be to paint word pictures vivid enough to engage the theater of your reader’s mind. Readers love to be educated and entertained, but they remember forever when they’re emotionally moved. So deciding which you’ll employ of the four main writing styles is crucial to leaving a powerful…

4‌ ‌Styles‌ ‌of‌ ‌Writing‌ ‌and‌ ‌How‌ ‌to‌ ‌Decide‌ ‌Which‌ ‌to‌ ‌Use — Jerry Jenkins | Proven Writing Tips


Doing what we are told–or not

While this won’t see publication until mid-December 2020, and I admit it doesn’t have much to do with editing services, I wonder if there are others out there who think as I do. I write on November 30, at the height of what we are told is Cyber Monday.

For the US readership, and those of any other country with a lot of Christmas gift-giving, did you buy anything online today? I did not. Were you tempted? But how could I resist the bargains, bargains, bargains? I was not even tempted.

I’d be interested in knowing if anyone else is as cynical about commerce. My starting presumption was/is that the designation of this as A Very Special Commercial Day was an attempt to manipulate the herd into overspending. The logic goes: “Better hurry, or other people will get all our Very Great Deals.” I assume it’s all smoke and mirrors; that they just raised prices and then marked them down, like our grocery stores do; that it’s a con job.

Black Friday, as it has been designated in order to make it Another Very Special Commercial Day, held even less attraction for me–and had done so in the many years before the pandemic turned large gatherings into superspreader events full of maskholes. “But you won’t get all the good deals!” Oh, I bet most of them aren’t so good. I don’t resent the marketing industry for presuming that the public is stupid, because for the most part the industry is correct when the public is taken as a mass. I probably should, but I do not. After cracking a couple of Black Fridays Matter jokes with my wife–and reflecting on the unfortunate impact of language choices on perceptions–I stayed home and watched college football.

The point, I guess, is that the Designation of the Very Special Commercial Days by itself was enough to turn me off. It triggered automatic assumptions that following a large crowd would lead to me spending money I should not, spending more money than necessary for anything I might want, and jostling around arterial streets and stores or the online ordering platforms.

It was that way with Amazon Prime as well. Remember when that came out? To me, it seemed obvious that Amazon would not do this unless they expected it would draw people to spend money with them more often than they should, just to “take advantage.” I took one look and said: “What is to your advantage will occur at my expense. No thanks.” Am I the only person who sees it this way? I just saw an American corporation pitching a gimmick, assumed it was screwery, and moved along.

The same applies to investing. On any given day, one can read a ton of articles about Some Intensely Important Indicator having made a critical shift: a Death Cross, an Inverted Yield Curve, a 50-Day Moving Average, or some other bit of technical talk. About half the time it warns us that we should sell, sell, sell, in order to avoid losing money. The other half is spent telling us now is the time to buy, buy, buy or miss the boat. Each side is right about 50% of the time, which poses a greater problem than people generally realize because in order to achieve an outperforming capital gain, one generally has to be right twice (timing of buying and selling). No wonder people just buy index ETFs.

Speaking of which, if you want a very effective strategy for cutting out all that racket and ignoring the Cassandras and Candides of our precious financial media, seriously consider subscribing to Jason Kelly’s financial newsletter. It is not cheap, but if you are managing five figures or more of assets, you should earn enough on dividends alone to wipe out the cost. It is entertaining, consistent, and often supplemented with midweek issues that comment on major movements. I can also verify from our business dealings and contacts that Jason maintains the highest possible standards of integrity and value. Time and again I have seen him lean to the side of making sure people are fully informed, well updated, and well supported. That’s not true of every financial newsletter out there, something I paid a lot of tuition (in the form of dumb investing decisions) to learn. Jason takes care of his people.

Unlike most of the money wonks on MarketWatch, Jason can write entertaining English with a dry wit. I go back to the time of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and Jason (who lives in Japan), decided to seek sock donations to give to refugees. There’s always some negatory type who could find fault with free beer or a form of cheesecake that causes weight loss, and sure enough, one of them wrote in to question Jason’s qualifications to operate this process. With elaborate tact and patience, Jason reviewed what was required: use platform to request socks from community, assemble socks once arrived, load in van, take to refugee centers. Approximate quote: ‘Do I think I’m qualified to put socks in a van and give them to people? Yes, I think I’m qualified to do that.’ One of the highlights of my week is watching him point out what’s wrong with what the financial media are currently saying.

Of course, Jason’s guidance doesn’t tell people to do what most of the media are stirring them to do. That might be the greatest part of its early appeal to me. His method radiates indifference toward mass manipulation efforts.

Good holidays to all you who are observing holidays. Good fun to those who are just having fun. And great fun to all my fellow nonconformists; you aren’t the only ones.

Writer’s Block: Why It Isn’t Just About Writing and What You Need to Kick It for Good — Kit ‘N Kabookle

C.W. Tough love. Taking responsibility. Not making excusesYou have the power. Image by Brandon Morgan on Unsplash.“I can’t write today because—” Image by Luke van Zyl on Unsplash.That’s it. That’s why you have writer’s block. “I can’t right.” No, you can’t. Why? Because you just told yourself you can’t. Feeling defensive, guilty, or ashamed? You’re…

Writer’s Block: Why It Isn’t Just About Writing and What You Need to Kick It for Good — Kit ‘N Kabookle

JK here: Mary De Santis consistently does a good job. While my own stance on the phantom ailment under discussion is to refuse to dignify its existence, in reality I don’t see how this differs much from that. And I’m for anything that stops coddling and cuddling the phantom ailment. Enjoy.

What’s really tough in my field

Now and then I sense that many observers think I have a pretty good gig: “You fix their grammar, duh, and get paid.” I grant that I’ve had worse jobs, and ones to which I was worse suited, but it has agonizing moments. (And I don’t just “fix their grammar.”) Take for instance:

A referral contact comes in: a rambling phone call leaving a several-minute message about her manuscript. It is evident that the caller is elderly and perhaps dealing with memory issues. Her name is Ada Miller. She conveys:

  • The ms is an autobiography about Ada’s life, which has been about as interesting as most people’s (that is, not very much so).
  • Ada was referred to me by my old friend Edna, who lives in the same senior complex. Edna is a wonderful lady who is always trying to do nice things for people, and I respect her very much.
  • She has not quite finished it, but she would like a firm quotation. You know, just to get an idea of how much it will cost to clean up a few minor errors.
  • Ada is on a fixed income, and in case I don’t get the hint, more or less indicates that this better not cost much and that I should offer a senior discount. After all, how hard can it be to fix a few typos? she asks with a chuckle.

I call Ada back, addressing her as Ms. Miller (old school Kansas boy, here), and attempt to discuss the ms. That is not feasible, unless I’m willing to talk over her and be branded rude. Ada rambles about her life, her story, her two cancer diagnoses, her children, her life, her story, how to find a publisher, her poverty, some other health problems, what a great buildup Edna gave me, and on. And on.

Ada is a lonely elderly lady hoping to make a little bit of extra money and get her story out there. She is a fundamentally nice, good person who thinks of others. However, she understands little about editing, the modern world of publishing, marketing to publishers, self-publishing, or any of that stuff. She expects me to educate her about all this, in between her soliloquies, and certainly does not expect to pay me for that time. (Not that I’ve ever charged for it, but I also reserve the right to limit it.)

When Ada does not like what she’s hearing from me, she argues with me in her genteel way. Each disagreement is grounds for her to deliver several minutes of reasons why she is correct.

Okay. You want to be an editor? Here’s your job. Decide:

  1. Plan on a massive amount of unpaid effort, wading through a ms loaded with problems, knowing Ada will reject probably half the edits, all in service of a project that will never make her one dime, for what will turn out to be an effective billing rate of about $5/hour. And that’s just for the editing time, which will be the most painful editing of your entire career. That’s not taking into account all of Ada’s loneliness emails and conversations.
  2. Find a way to reject this poor, nice, elderly potential client, who has no idea what she’s doing and isn’t willing to follow any guidance that she might not agree with. Challenge: do so without crushing her soul and sending her to Edna with many humphs about how unhelpful and rude you were to her.

Yeah, I have such an easy job.

On aging

One of our greatest challenges in life and maturity is to see the world through other eyes, empathize with how other people feel.  There are limits to it.  A man may, with significant effort, apply the assumptions of femaleness to life, and see that life somewhat through her eyes.  An adult may quite easily see the world through a child’s eyes, having once owned a pair.  A white person will probably strain to empathize with the experience of being black, but to a degree, it can be done.  Most of this is really a matter of thinking things through:  what would it be like for the other person, and what attitudes, preferences and behaviors does this explain?

One firm bar exists that I do not think we can breach:  age.  I’m 48.  At 24, half a life ago, I could not have conceived how it felt to be double my age, much less quadruple.  This, it seems, only years confer.  My grandmother is 92, nearly double my current age.  The impact of the changes, cycles, generations, the sheer accumulated mass of people she has known, the realization that a vast percentage of them have passed on, the icy reality that even in excellent health and with much luck, the clock of life ticks ahead, these I believe are beyond me despite the greatest effort I might make.

This is why it’s good to talk to people older than ourselves.  They simply know things we do not.  Even a glimmer of their realizations is precious to those of us younger.  And once those realizations fall silent and still with the passing of life, or fade into forgetfulness or loss of mind, they are lost and gone forever.  There will be others, but that set of memories and that gathered mass of realization is no longer available.

I think of this sometimes when working with older clients, and as I become elder myself. Much is there to learn, and to teach if people wish to learn.

I will share with you one bit of that elderly wisdom I gathered up, just over half a lifetime ago.  It was the time Queen Elizabeth II came to UW for a visit, and ROTC cadets and midshipmen were invited to volunteer to help the police and Secret Service with security.  There’s a lot else about the story, but the pertinent part here is where we were assigned to help usher people to their seats.

Well, the bleachers at Hec Ed are not always an easy climb for the ancient and frail.  Noting a very elderly lady struggling to get up to her place, a NROTC midshipman and I simultaneously arrived at her sides.  We somewhat helped and somewhat lifted the lady up the bleachers into her seat.  An unremarkable act of duty in itself, but what was remarkable was her eyes, eyes that had known at least four British monarchs despite Her Majesty’s considerable longevity.  As we set her down gently on the varnished wood, she looked at each of us in turn with an intensity that pierced the soul.  She said quietly but very firmly, “Thank you, you young gentlemen.  Someday, someone will do this for you.”

You’re welcome, ma’am, but I wasn’t the giver.  What I gave was insignificant in comparison to what I received.

Armchair Reader: Fascinating Bible Facts

Word has filtered my way that the abovementioned book will soon be distributed.  I’m very glad of this, because I did a lot of work on it.  Some months ago, I blogged about it, but there were evidently delays.  As I look back, I feel very optimistic about its reception because I believe the editors commissioned excellent content (and I am not talking about my own, specifically, but their overall topic selection philosophy).  Can’t wait to get my comps.

I am not sure if you can yet pre-order it, but I will keep an eye out.  Given that most of my friends and family are Christian (some are very avid Bible readers), I’m probably going to order quite a few to give away.  Kudos to PIL for getting this one moving!

Thought for the day

As long as you have a burning need to answer yahoos, you will always care what yahoos think, and yahoos will always impact you.  When you reach the point where you feel more satisfied giving yahoos absolutely zero to grasp and use to beat you with, life gets better.

I can think of some authors who still need to learn this. If someone sent one a ‘fan’ letter one found so stupid one was tempted to include its substance in the afterword of one’s next book, for example. I guess that’s when they are at the point where they are no longer paying attention to editing guidance.

Of course, I’m only talking about verbal retaliation.  If you have a chance to have some fun with them physically, I’m all for that part, obeying all relevant/enforceable statutes and inserting here all the necessary rear end covering.

Okay, I’ve learned a lesson.

Never follow any rule off a cliff.

Put another way:  for people to be interested in the everyday mundane about one’s life, even if infused with some comedy, one has to be more famous than I am.

My readership isn’t enormous, but it is steady and doughty, and it’s way down this week.  Clearly the concrete saga, which I thought might have some interest, isn’t all that interesting.  I say that without the slightest sour grapes; rather, I am thinking, “Well, I’m glad I did the experiment.  Didn’t work.  Learn and move on.”

So, there will not be a continuance of the concrete saga, or those like it, unless they produce something I think someone besides me would find interesting.  I will return to eclecticism and variety, which my dearly appreciated and valued readers (that would be you) have shown that you prefer.  And honestly, I’d prefer to write eclectically anyway, so this is a happy learning experience.

Speaking of which, if there is a type of blogging you prefer/enjoy, by all means leave a comment telling me what you would rather see.  I am of the philosophy that says:  be kind to the reader.  I will be glad to be influenced to write what you do want to read.

The driveway begins…

…with a concrete sawyer.  The garage is built onto a concrete pad, so in order to pour a new one without causing a huge mess, someone had to make a clean cut along the garage door, the rockeries and the steps.  The process started today.  I wasn’t here, but god that must have been noisy.

I have cautious optimism about the contractor.  That’s about as good as I get until I see proof of honest, prompt, quality work.  My enthusiasm about engaging contractors corresponds to most women’s enthusiasm about mammograms and pap smears:  it makes you feel vulnerable, it generally hurts, and there could be very adverse results–and whatever they are, you will have to pay.  But if this is not done, water will keep getting into my garage and damaging my siding.  Not good.

Part of the headache is the need to find alternate parking for my truck and Deb’s car for a week.  Happily, we have wonderful neighbors.  Mrs. A has graciously permitted us to park over at her place except for Sunday, when her place is full of family.  Long life and health to Mrs. A.

Why am I writing about this mundane subject? Because I was told to, and because I didn’t do any other writing today (errands), and because writers must write.