J. Robert King

Apology of a Madman

My posts are odd. I know this.

The point of social media is to tell a bit about yourself and invite others to the conversation. Most authors make blog posts that do that.

My posts are more like leering eyes through the food slot in the double-barred door or a flaming bag left on the doorstep.

Why is this, you might ask. Certainly my publishers do. So at last I have asked myself, why is this?

I guess the answer is that I’ve never been comfortable with terra firma. On this known earth, I know exactly what I am–an awkward, big-nosed, stumble-footed creature bumbling his way from one “excuse me” to the next “sorry.”

In terra incognita, I might be somebody altogether different. In the unknown world, I might actually be some sort of nacent angel, or some kind of pupae-stage hero, some kind of backwater demigod.

The one earth is that which is, and the other, that which might be. I cannot stand to live in the one, so I have taken up residence in the other.

It’s why I start a posting with, “Now, I’m no epidemiologist. . . .”

It’s why, at a funeral dinner, I recognize the waiter and ask how I know him, and when he says he is studying astrophysics, I tell him that dark matter and dark energy are a crock–saving appearances. I tell him we need a paradigm shift that encompasses Einstein and Newton but also gets at the other ninety percent of the universe. I say, “What if gravity isn’t a function of mass, but mass is a function of gravity?”

He says I’m crazy. I am,  after all. I’m not an astrophysicist.

And just tonight, my nine-year-old son says to me, “You know, if Adam and Eve were the first people, then we all are related.” So I want to tell him, yes, we all are related. It’s proven through mitochondrial DNA among humans. There was even an out-of-Africa Eve, who was the mother of everyone who is not of current African descent, and that the diversity among Africans now is greater than the diversity among all the other humans.

But my son is nine. What do I tell him?

I say, “Remember that Maya paper you wrote today?”

“The one about life in a Maya city?”

“Yes, the one in which you talked about yourself as a Maya and spoke of what you did every day and showed how you looked at the world?”


“Well, that’s a really good bit of writing you did, but you weren’t writing a history textbook. You weren’t talking about actual things that actually happened. You were writing about what it would be like if you lived at that time, right?”


“Now, imagine that somebody finds what you write a hundred, maybe a thousand years from now, and that person says, ‘Ah, ha! Now we have the history of the Maya people. We know from this first-hand account what happened in this specific city at this specific time.”

My son looks in shock at me. “They’d be wrong.”

“Yes, not because what you wrote was wrong, but because they didn’t understand why you wrote it. That’s the way it is with the Adam and Eve story. People who say it is literally true don’t understand why it was written. The story even says that Adam and Eve have two sons–Cain and Abel. Cain slays Abel and then runs away to a city. Where did this city come from? Clearly, Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel weren’t the only people on this earth if there’s a city for Cain to flee to. So can it be a literal story? The story itself says no.”

But here’s where the madness kicks in. I tell my son, “But the Adam and Eve story is true. We all are related. Science shows it. We’re all connected, not just to other human beings but to chimpanzees and to earthworms and to dandelions.”

Is it what a nine year old wants to hear? I don’t know. Is it what the book-buying public–let alone the bookselling public–wants to hear?

Definitely not.

But it’s where my brain plays. It’s the world of terra incognita.

The fundamental connection between science and religion is mystery. True religion says that, at its base, our life is a complete mystery. True science discovers ten questions for each answer it finds. The result: science does more to show how mysterious and marvelous our universe is than to show how rule-bound and obvious it is.

Religion needs to give up its hold on absolute truth. It never had it and never will.

Science needs to give up the deception that it is progressively eliminating mysteries. In fact, it is amplifying them.

So, what I should have said to my nine year old was, “You’re right. Science and religion agree. We all come from the same place.”

A bit odd, I know, and not very inviting for comment, but at least I didn’t handwrite my manifesto and send it off to the Washington Post. I’m no Kaczinski.

I may be crazy, but I’m not bat-shit crazy.

November 19th, 2009
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2 Responses to “Apology of a Madman”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Let’s hear it for “not bat-shit crazy!” Woo-hoo!

  2. admin Says:

    Ha! Thanks Jeff. That’s a vote of confidence–especially after you reviewed Death’s Disciples!

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