Negative reviews and indexes

You have to be thick-skinned if you’re going to stick your neck out, which is what you’re doing any time you write a book. Bad reviews are annoying and hurtful, but they come with the territory. And sometimes you can learn from them. It’s embarrassing when it happens, but I’m grateful when reviewers point out factual errors. If the book goes back to press I can have them fixed; if the opportunity never arises, I can still take some comfort in knowing that the record has been corrected in a public forum. Truth is important to me.

CULTS, CONSPIRACIES, AND SECRET SOCIETIES has clearly pissed off a lot of people, as I would have expected it to. Fair’s fair–if I can call you a nut, then you can call me arrogant, close-minded, shallow, misinformed, intellectually dishonest, opportunistic, sleazy, smug or whatever. But what kills me is the prosecutorial zeal with which some reviewers have pointed to the book’s lack of an index, as if its non-existence were prima facie evidence of my many failings as an author–laziness, lack of rigor, see above. Clearly, they imply, I have something to hide. If I didn’t, I would have provided an index, which would have made it easier to find. It isn’t just malicious reviewers, either. Arnold Zwicky, a linguist, devoted a whole blog post to his annoyance with my “fascinating, though dismaying” book’s lack of apparatus.

The plain fact is that the whole time I was writing CULTS, CONSPIRACIES, AND SECRET SOCIETIES, I assumed that it was going to be indexed. My original introduction contained a paragraph about “how to use this book” which pointed readers to the index as well as to the bold-faced cross references. Much to my dismay, my publisher made a last minute decision to forgo it. There’s no conspiracy here, honest–just a parsimonious publisher in an economically challenging season. But if I ever write another book and the same thing happens, I will absolutely put my foot down.

Revisiting some old haunts

It’s been a long time since I finished writing CULTS, CONSPIRACIES AND SECRET SOCIETIES and I admit I’ve fallen a bit out of touch. This evening I decided to take a virtual walk down memory lane and revisit some of my old cyber stomping grounds. Googling this and that, following links where they led me, I caught up on the newest about Obama’s birth certificate and death panels and the controlled demolition of the WTC. What else did I learn? That Pope Benedict is a member of the Illuminati, the cabal of 300 that has been running the world since the 1700s. With Satanic disregard for the Biblical injunction to dominate the earth, they have been indoctrinating young people with lies about eco-consciousness and climate change, hobbling agriculture and industry so that tens of millions of “useless eaters” can be starved to death. Population control is also the reason that AIDs and abortion were invented and that the homosexual lifestyle is so vigorously promoted.

I learned that the last Pope, John Paul II, was a Zyklon B gas salesman for IG Farben; his biggest client was the Nazis. Not surprisingly, the Vatican Press office left that out of his official biography but William Cooper somehow dug up the truth. Alex Jones commemorated the eighth anniversary of 9/11 with the news that David Rockefeller is retiring as the secret governor of North America and Senator Jay Rockefeller is taking his place. The Queens of England and the Netherlands and Lord Rothschild, the other three rulers of the world, have no plans to retire at this time.

Tomorrow I will buy THE LOST SYMBOL. Something tells me that a lot of people are going to be asking me about the Masons in the next couple of weeks.

David Ray Griffin and 9/11 Truth

One of my Amazon reviewers attacked me–justly, I think–for not even mentioning David Ray Griffin’s name in CULTS, CONSPIRACIES, AND SECRET SOCIETIES. Griffin taught at the Claremont School of Theology for many years and is the author of a score of distinguished books on process theology. In THE NEW PEARL HARBOR: DISTURBING QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION AND 9/11 and THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT: OMISSIONS AND DISTORTIONS (both published in 2004), he took up the argument that all of the official stories about 9/11 are false–that the US government not only covered up the truth about the attacks but enabled or participated in them.

Griffin is not only a distinguished academic, but a dove whose political leanings are not uncongenial with my own. He is neither a physicist nor a structural engineer nor an aviation expert; most of his arguments about how WTC7 couldn’t have collapsed on its own, why NORAD and the FAA can’t be believed, and how the Pentagon was really attacked by a cruise missile, are neither original or especially convincing. Though true believers will believe otherwise, virtually all of them have been effectively rebutted. But he brings passion, sincerity, and academic prestige to the table–and also, I think, inadvertently proves my point that the deepest impetus for most conspiracy theory is essentially theological. The quote below comes from Griffin’s rejoinder to his fellow theologian Ian Markham, who had reviewed THE NEW PEARL HARBOR in the journal Conversations in Religion and Theology.

At the center of our own nation’s propaganda since its inception has been the myth of American “exceptionalism”, according to which America is free from the sins and weaknesses that led the nations of the Old World into corruption, war, and imperialism. One expression of this myth has been the widespread idea….that enormous power in American hands is not dangerous because our nation, unlike others, uses its power to promote freedom, democracy, and human rights, not selfish interests.
Although this myth was traditionally based on the idea that America is a uniquely Christian nation, it is actually, from a Christian perspective, a heretical idea, because it contradicts the doctrine of original sin—no less than did the Communist doctrine that “the dictatorship of the proletariat” would be salutary because the proletariat was free from the selfishness of the bourgeoisie……we face a situation analogous to that confronted by the Confessing Church in Germany… task is more important for theologians today than the attempt to make that conflict clear. I am also convinced that one of the most effective ways to do this would be to expose the truth about 9/11.

9/11 anniversary

There was an article in the Times about how in the aftermath of 9/11 it seemed inconceivable that people would ever work in skyscrapers again; that Ground Zero wouldn’t be instantly rebuilt; that Times Square wouldn’t be attacked by suicide bombers. What I remember most about the aftermath of 9/11 isn’t the fear (though I suppose there was plenty of that)–it was the tenderness. For a few days, there was no pushing on the subways, people made eye contact, and everybody’s voices were pitched lower. The morning of September 12, we went to Cobble Hill park with our kids. It was filled with parents that we never saw during the day, many of them with stories about missing neighbors and friends. It was awful–I mean, really awful–but at the same time I’ve never felt so safely swaddled in community.

I wrote something on the anniversary of 9/11 in 2005, the year of Katrina, that I didn’t publish. Now that I have a blog, it seems appropriate to post some of it:

It was terribly sad and dislocating, but for people like me who’d escaped without a scratch, who didn’t have funerals to attend and life insurance claims to deal with, who hadn’t witnessed the carnage first hand (what I’d seen was spectacular and bloodless, like a scene in a big budget action movie) it was also a little bit of an adventure. Before too long, I was riding my bike to work again. American flags flapped on the antennae of passing cars; homemade missing persons posters were plastered to lampposts. I’d nod at the guardsmen manning the checkpoints as my tires crunched through the gray silt that still coated the empty downtown streets.

We were filled with voluptuous intimations of our mortality, with the heady sense that we’d been swept up into history—we never lacked for something urgent and interesting to talk about. We were living in a war zone, but we suffered none of the deprivations of war; we had survived a great catastrophe, but most of us had never been in any immediate danger. Ground Zero was a mass grave and an apocalyptic wasteland, but it was only 16 acres in size. In the rest of this vast city our telephones and computers and cable TV were still connected; the supermarkets were fully stocked. Our sense of the community around us was palpable and warm and nurturing.

A few weeks after 9/11, I attended a business lunch in the Time Life Building at Rockefeller Center (where one of the first anthrax letters had just been discovered). There was much talk around the table about Bush and Afghanistan, dirty bombs and bio-terrorism, and especially about how we were all dealing with our fear. The woman next to me said quietly, “This isn’t new to me. This is what it felt like when I learned I had cancer. Only I had to deal with that all by myself.”

“Isn’t it better that we can share this?” I asked her.

“I’m not sure,” she answered. “It’s pretty personal.”

At the time, I didn’t understand what she meant. I think I do now.

Perhaps now that an American city really has been laid waste, we can begin to re-think the lessons we thought we learned from 9/11. If nothing else, it is a salutary spiritual/intellectual exercise. If we are sufficiently honest with ourselves, it just might do wonders for our national character.

9/11 taught us that there are people in the world who hate Americans so much that they’ll stop at nothing to kill us. But shouldn’t we have known that already? America has produced its own share of haters and killers, after all. September 11 taught us that death can drop out of the sky like a thunderbolt, that a mother, a father, a daughter, a son, a brother, a sister, a wife, a husband, a lover, can leave their homes in the morning, never to return. We should have known that too. Our hospitals have never lacked for patients; our cemeteries and funeral homes do a booming business every day.

9/11 taught us that, in a time of fear, people hunger for heroes. And it literally gave us hundreds of them—the firefighters and policemen and civilians who sacrificed themselves rescuing strangers, the passengers on Flight 93, the workers who cleaned up the mess and searched for the bodies. But it’s not just heroes we long for—we want a father figure too, someone who can scare the monsters back under the bed.President Bush sealed his bid for reelection by promising to defeat terror. But isn’t terror a basic fact of life—isn’t death, in fact, the ultimate price we all must pay for the privilege of being alive?

Yes, yes, I know. 9/11 was wrought by vicious men—it didn’t have to happen. I would never say that fatalism, an existential shrug of the shoulders, is an appropriate response to a terrible crime. But neither is grandiosity and paranoia. After the Tsunami, after Katrina, doesn’t it seem a bit unseemly how maudlin we all were? Not about the victims, who suffered the full measure of horror—about ourselves. We were the lucky ones. All of our numbers will come up some day, but they didn’t then. Even so, we wallowed in our fear. We were so outraged, so flabbergasted by the thought that we weren’t invulnerable.

I think I finally understand what the cancer survivor who sat next to me at that business lunch four years ago was trying to tell me. It’s a highly personal thing, this coming to terms with one’s own mortality. It requires solitude and time and it doesn’t come without pain. But if we truly wish to honor our dead, it’s past time that we begin the hard work of reflection.