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Proud Mary Keep On Boinin’ . . .

Proud Mary Keep On Boinin’ . . . October 6, 2021

James 3:6-18 (RSV) And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. [7] For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, [8] but no human being can tame the tongue — a restless evil, full of deadly poison. [9] With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. [10] From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so. [11] Does a spring pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish? [12] Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh. [13] Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. [14] But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. [15] This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. [16] For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. [17] But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. [18] And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Luke 6:26 Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

Matthew 10:36 and a man’s foes will be those of his own household.

Matthew 23:23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

Mary Pezzulo, who runs the Patheos site, Steel Magnificat (on the same Catholic Channel where my blog is hosted), felt compelled to write a hit-piece at my expense, entitled, I Apologize For The Apologist (10-1-21). Her words will be in blue below. This is not the first time she has used her writing talent (which is considerable) to lob an attack on my character and person, and the apologetics work that I have been engaged in full-time for what will be twenty years this December. Her jeremiad bristles with contempt and the sort of dripping disdain that is sadly typical of pathetic Catholic infighting these days.

I had responded to her character assassination at least one time before, and the result was that she threatened to sue me, and I thought better of it and took it down. Well, one can only endure so much of this sort of thing. If she can write such a piece against me, filled with falsehoods, then I certainly have the [legal and ethical] right to respond. But she has her own way of dealing with the exchange of ideas and a man defending his good name and reputation, as we see in her anticipation of my reply:

I’m sure he’s already reading this and planning his six-volume harassing rebuttal,

Just one volume. Did you catch that? Let me dare defend myself against her endless accusations and she automatically classifies it as “harassing.” This is her game. If I don’t respond, a pack of falsehoods go out about me, potentially harming my reputation and my very livelihood. If I do, she raises a big fuss and squeals that I am harassing her and threatens to sue. That leaves me between a rock and a hard place, doesn’t it?

I would  like to apologize  for my Patheos colleague, Dave Armstrong. Today, Dave has decided to appropriate [former Catholic and singer Audrey] Assad’s religious choices for his own nasty, patronizing, gaslighting blog post where he chides her for having read too much Buddhist thought and not having read enough of his tiresome apologetics books. 

The notion of critiquing a deconversion story has a perfectly sensible, reasonable defense, which I wrote about in my post from yesterday, Why Do I (or How DARE I?!) Critique Deconversions? It was not a response to Mary, at least not by name, though I vaguely alluded to her and other critics of mine, who currently are competing with each other to see who can be the most insulting and outrageous.

It stands on its own as a rationale and explanation of one aspect of apologetics. Here is a portion that was written to an atheist who had left Christianity altogether, but the thought is largely the same, if applied to someone leaving the Catholic Church (yet not necessarily Christianity altogether or philosophical theism, as in Audrey’s case):

One can listen and extend sympathy in one situation and critique ideas in another. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. I simultaneously critique atheism and try to find common ground with atheists, too, in an attitude of respect and listening (exactly what I’m doing right now). When we got together at the restaurant, I spent a great deal of time listening: probably at least as much as I talked; and there was only one o’ me and six o’ y’all [all atheists].

If you and I were sitting somewhere and you said something like, “these are the reasons why I left Christianity; what really hurt me and caused me a lot of pain . . .” etc., then absolutely that would be a time for listening, friend to friend, man to man. Surely you would know that I would disagree with many of your reasons, but I would listen and hopefully be a friend.

But as an apologist, generally speaking (in the public arena), I have to defend Christianity, and that includes critiquing reasons given to reject Christianity. If those reasons are inadequate, then it is my task to show how and why they are, in order to prevent existing Christians from using them as reasons to leave . . .

And in another dialogue with two atheists, I wrote:

Since they are public critiques of Christianity (hence, fair game for public criticism), as a Christian (Catholic) apologist, I have a few thoughts in counter-reply.

I am not questioning the sincerity of these persons or the truthfulness of their self-reports, or any anguish that they went through. I accept their words at face value. I’m not arguing that they are terrible, evil people (that’s a child’s game). My sole interest is in showing if and where certain portions of these deconversion stories contain fallacious or non-factual elements: where they fail to make a point against Christianity (what Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga calls “defeating the defeaters”), or misrepresent (usually unwittingly) Christianity as a whole, or the Bible, etc.

Agree or disagree, that is my motivation.

Audrey Assad herself recognized that her publicly expressed material about her personal journey was open to scrutiny, in her tweet seeking to contact me, dated 1 October 2021: “I have no qualms with people publicly commenting on my public confessions.” If that wasn’t an issue for her, it shouldn’t have been for anyone else. She chose to write about her story in public. No one forced her at gunpoint to do so. If she had intended it to be merely private, no one would have known about it. All through this incident, I observed that my existing critics, and friends of Audrey’s on her Twitter page were much more upset about all this than she ever was (not to mention far less forgiving).

I vehemently deny that the critique was “nasty” or “patronizing.” I retracted it and apologized to Audrey a few days ago (more on that below) for reasons other than that false charge, but I still have it in a file, in case questions about its nature come up (and it will, because my critics are not letting up). I was respectful and made it clear that I was “just speculating” (based on the information she did share). I didn’t assert what I didn’t know: whether Audrey had read much apologetics.

I posed it in the form of two questions: “Had Audrey read any Catholic apologetics, so she could understand why Catholics believe as they do (the rational part of theology)? I doubt it.” And: “I would ask Audrey: ‘did you read Catholic apologetics or catechetics with regard to those doctrines that you started to doubt?’ . . .”  It turns out I was wrong. She had read a good deal of apologetics, as she clarified, and this was what made me decide within a day of learning that, to retract my piece with an apology for any offense caused, because that was my main argument, and it was factually erroneous.

I complimented her and showed some sympathy (I could have shown much more of that, I now concede), and wrote: “I respect and appreciate Audrey’s transparency and honesty, and willingness to discuss such painful and private things in public (which takes guts)”. I ended with: “I have nothing against her personally (I’m just talking about the relative merit of various beliefs and opinions) and would be delighted to dialogue, if that is agreeable.”

Is this “nasty” or “patronizing”? I don’t think so. Perhaps some other portions were to some extent, but certainly weren’t intended to be. I’m not perfect, and upon reflection all writers can always do a better job and show more charity, especially if it is sensitive subject matter. But my article was not this ugly, insulting, horrifically cruel thing that Mary and others are now caricaturing and making it out to be.

Of course I never mentioned my books. That’s flat-out false. She actually did, as she wrote on her page, but I didn’t bring it up.

Nor did I chide her “for having read too much Buddhist thought”. She wrote, “I am heavily influenced by the Tao and Zen Buddhism nowadays” and I simply responded, “Obviously, if she has been reading this sort of material (contrary to theism and Christianity in many ways), it influenced her to leave Catholicism. ‘We are what we eat.’ “

Before I go further, let me document that Audrey very graciously accepted my retraction and apology and wrote on her page:

This was retracted by Mr. Armstrong, and he apologized publicly for his statements about me, which I did not request but do sincerely appreciate. (4:03 PM · Oct 3, 2021)
I do not hold hard feelings against Dave Armstrong and appreciate very much that my response was heard. I may have left the institution but my desire for peacemaking is very much intact, including with people inside the institution I left. (4:05 PM · Oct 3, 2021)
That would seem to be the end of it, wouldn’t it? That’s how it worked in the Bible, per Jesus’ instructions. You know: 70 x 7 and all that? There are folks out there, including Mary, who don’t like me much and are determined to milk this thing for all it’s worth. Catholic writer Scott Eric Alt wrote today on my own Facebook page: “I don’t believe your retraction to Audrey Assad counts for anything.” He’s prepared (quite the opposite of Audrey herself) to flat-out classify me as a liar, and my apology as utterly insincere.
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In one thread on former Catholic apologist and now Daily Thundering Judge and Biden Enthusiast Mark Shea’s page, no less than five people questioned the sincerity of my apology. But I had also made several clarifying / apology-type comments on Audrey’s Twitter page that she also read and that were part of the overall mix. Several of her friends there also fully accepted my apology and retraction, and also many of them liked Audrey’s acceptance of it, showing that they were happy about it.
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These naysayers seem to (wrongly) sense blood in the water, and a chance to “take me down.” They’re wrong and they have vastly underestimated my resilience and absolute [lifelong] commitment to the work to which I have been called by God. I’ve been doing it in some fashion for literally forty years and I will continue as long as I am able to write. Let these nattering nabobs chatter and gossip as they wish. It has no effect on what I do. But it sure adversely affects their souls, the longer they keep it up.
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He doesn’t know Audrey, he just decided to do a line-by-line critique of her public statement and pump it full of his own pompous assumptions about her motivations and her supposed ignorance.
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Mary doesn’t know me, either! And she decided to do her critique full of her own pompous assumptions about my supposed wicked motivations and arrogance. I fessed up. We’ll see how Mary responds to this.
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It’s repulsive to me that Dave would do this to somebody who has been very vulnerable with us about the place she’s in on her religious journey. 
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Audrey (at least as far as she has expressed) had no problem with my critique per se: only with my incorrect and speculative thesis that she was insufficiently acquainted with Catholic apologetics.
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I’m particularly annoyed by his disdain for Buddhism and his assumption that it would lead people away from the Catholic faith. One of my dear friends from Columbus actually converted to Catholicism through her study of Buddhism at the local dojo. All religion is the search for truth and the Holy Spirit is not proud.
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I expressed no “disdain” for Buddhism. In many ways it’s a beautiful religion and I respect it. At the same time, it is what I stated (wearing my apologist’s hat): “contrary to theism and Christianity in many ways.” In other ways, there are similarities, which accounts for the fact of Mary’s friend above, just as my vague pagan-type “nature religion” in my younger years led me to Christianity in due course. I’m as ecumenical as anyone else, as a devoted child of Vatican II, that stressed this aspect. But eastern religion can also lead Catholics away from their faith, which is all that I noted.
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I’m also disgusted by the bit where he accuses Assad of not reading enough apologetics or using enough objective reasoning. There’s no way he could have known that from her statement. It’s a red herring to say that everyone who takes a different spiritual path than you do must not have thought and studied as hard as you have. Some very knowledgeable and well-read people have rejected Christianity before. I don’t agree with their conclusions, but not having enough fancy book-learning is not their problem.
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That’s where I screwed-up, so I don’t mind Mary being “disgusted” about that. At least she managed to get something right. But the thing is, in Christianity, we are commanded to accept it when people repent, and extend forgiveness and charity. Will Mary do that, too? Or is this mistake of mine to be rubbed in my face for all eternity?
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But I am especially offended at how Armstrong coldly dismisses Assad about her statement that she suffered panic at the thought of receiving the Eucharist. He sneers that she ought to get therapy even though she says she was already in therapy. 
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I love the cynically descriptive adjectives. I “coldly dismissed” her panic and sneered? Huh?! I simply mentioned matter-of-factly, “Then that needed to be dealt with in therapy.” In other words, that was the way to address the occurrence of panic attacks. I was reaffirming what she said herself. Why is that controversial? My family has been through these kinds of things. Three of my four children have (or at one time had) significant special needs. My wife Judy suffered severe post-partum depression for the most part of seven years. I myself have experienced severe clinical depression (way back in 1977: the worst year of my life): thankfully an isolated event. I’m the very last person to be scornful of therapy or medication for the same purpose. I even minored in psychology in college (my major was sociology).
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And then he moves on to chide her to “withstand the world, the flesh, and the devil,” thus getting a dig in at her mental state while in the same paragraph accusing her of having a demonic rather than a mental health problem.
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This is absolutely false and is taken radically out of context. Here is the portion in question, immediately after my remark about therapy:
This is, of course, no reason at all to reject the Holy Eucharist (i.e., consecrated hosts) as Catholics believe it to be (Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ). But the devil will do anything to separate Catholics from the sacraments and the Church and her (and their) faith. Whatever gets them away from the Eucharist results in them having less grace, which is altogether necessary to maintain such faith and to withstand the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Note what I did there. After making a pastoral observation (therapy) I then addressed theological and spiritual warfare considerations. Only one of those three things have to do with rational considerations of the mind (the thing apologists are so often accused of: being allegedly one-dimensional). My theological assertion was that the Holy Eucharist is what it is (our Lord Jesus), and that doesn’t change, whether a person experiences panic attacks or not. I don’t know what Audrey would say about the Eucharist now, but as an apologist I was duty-bound to defend the central sacramental rite of the Mass. It’s not attacking her. It’s defending what Catholics believe.
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The third thing I did was discuss spiritual warfare and the devil’s tactics, as a sort of “footnote”. At this point I was speaking generally, not about Audrey alone (I often do that in my writing; go from the particular to a general observation). This is obvious (at least for people who aren’t already looking down their holier-than-thou noses at me), and runs counter to Mary’s ridiculous contention that I was accusing Audrey of having a demon or something. It’s outrageous. Anyone can see what I meant in context.
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In other words, the devil would have seen these panic attacks as a means to get Audrey to stop receiving the Eucharist.  He loves that because it means less received grace and power for the Catholic life. This is what helps us “withstand the world, the flesh, and the devil.” Nothing wrong whatever here. I’m writing as a Catholic (guilty as charged!), highlighting the supreme importance of the Eucharist, and warning about the devil’s evil ways: to which we are all (any kind of Christian) subjected.
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Actually, a lot of Catholics have panic and trauma associated with the Eucharist, whether they end up leaving the Faith or not. The cause of this is usually a spiritually abusive catechesis. I love the Eucharist but I grew up with spiritually abusive catechesis myself, as I’ve talked about before, and I used to have bad OCD about receiving the Eucharist because I was afraid I might accidentally drop it or leave crumbs, or even be guilty of a mortal sin that I’d just forgotten when I went up to receive. Sometimes I still don’t receive Communion on Sundays, but I’m making progress. The thing to do when someone is having so much pain is to show empathy and compassion, not gaslight them.

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That’s a good point that I am not all that familiar with, and so haven’t thought about much. I hope it’s not very widespread. I have never observed in my 30 years as a Catholic, in my recollection, anyone seeming to react this way as they received Holy Communion. That’s not to deny that it happens. I’m just explaining why I haven’t considered it much. But again, the solution would be therapy (for Audrey or anyone else who is struggling with that), to heal from such abuse, and OCD or PTSD or whatever else resulted from it. I believe in therapy! It’s great, and has helped members of my family.

Mary accuses me three times in her screed of “gaslighting.” I have done no such thing. It’s a scurrilous falsehood. I am a very sympathetic, empathetic (where I have experienced the same thing), and compassionate person. Mary would never know that because she seems to have despised me from Day One and has never tried to get to know me. But the people who actually do know me know the real me, not the cardboard caricature or straw man of all these recent attacks. Instead, she breezily accuses me of gaslighting, as if I am some callous, cruel Beast. She doesn’t know my interior thoughts and motivations. She can’t read hearts or minds.

Dave is always doing things like this. He likes to kick people when they’re down.

Nonsense. More outrageous lies . . . She links to a previous hit-piece against me, from June 2019. If I reply to that one, too, does it mean she’ll sue me twice?
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He doesn’t follow the example of Jesus Christ, Who had harsh words for those who were complacent but compassion for the suffering. We know that God shall not break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick, but the grand tradition of Catholic Apologists seems to be to go out looking for bruised reeds so they can make fun of them to advertise their books. You’re supposed to punch up, not down, but apologists punch down.
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This is so asinine and absurd that it deserves no reply. She obviously doesn’t know anything about me, or my life (nor about mainstream Catholic apologetics).
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Am I good at not breaking bruised reeds? No, I’m not, and for the times I’ve been cruel I am embarrassed and sincerely apologize.
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Well, now she has another golden opportunity to be embarrassed and apologize.
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But that doesn’t mean that I’m excused from speaking out when someone else is being a bully.
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I’m not a bully at all. Again, anyone who has been with me for more than ten minutes would laugh their fool heads off at such a ludicrous characterization of me. It might take Mary a day or two if we ever met (some folks are slow to perceive), but I believe she would see how wrong she is about this, too. All she can “see” about me now is horns and fangs. It’s a joke.
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Thankfully, Ms. Assad seems to be taking Dave’s nonsense in stride and is publicly laughing at him, but I’m still sorry she had to see this. And I’m sorry to everyone else who had to see it as well.
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She laughed at what I got wrong, and she should have, because I deserved that. But she didn’t laugh at my retraction and apology. She acted with great class and dignity. The former Catholic has acted far more as Jesus would have us act than all these Greatest (Leftish) Catholics of All Time, who parade around as if they have a lock on Christian ethics and compassion, yet can’t even comprehend (judging by how they are acting) the simplest things in Christianity: like forgiveness and mercy and love.
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Dave fancies himself a new Chesterton 
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Really? I never said such a thing. So where does a silly statement like this come from? Well, it’s just made up out of whole cloth . . .
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and has nicknames for everybody he despises;
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I don’t despise anyone; but I sure am despised.
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when he goes after me, he calls me “Proud Mary.” One afternoon he completely misunderstood something I said and thought I was making fun of him when I hadn’t had him in mind, and he wrote something like two thousand words on social media calling me “Proud Mary” and trying to insult me to soothe his wounded dignity for the imagined slight. 

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If I misunderstood something, big wow. It happens. What I have not misunderstood is Mary’s utter disdain and contempt for me as a person and as an apologist. I haven’t gotten that wrong. But there is a funny story behind Proud Mary. Of course she doesn’t mention what I’m about to tell you. She was tickled and amused by the nickname at first. She said something to the effect of “I love that song! Can’t you come up with a better nickname than that?”

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That was the extent of our joyous Christian fellowship: a shared love of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Ah, the good ol’ days of our five minutes of togetherness: fulfilling Jesus’ prayer that His disciples would be “perfectly one” (Jn 17:23), just as He and His Father were one (Jn 17:21-22): which oneness would be an evangelistic witness to the world (Jn 17:21, 23).

Then I busted her bubble by explaining that the satire of the name was in comparing her to the proud Pharisees, who judged folks all the time and felt morally and superior superior to them, just as she habitually does, towards far more than just myself, believe me. Ever since then, she hasn’t liked the name much.

The apologetics industry, at this stage of the game, is a gentlemen’s club of grouchy old codgers who don’t care about actual souls but just want to score points in an argument. The way to win souls to our Faith is to love them and to show some compassion. Apologists don’t do that.

I apologize for the apologist. He ought to be ashamed.

This is the very essence of prejudice: taking a whole group of people and tarring them with a negative brush. Apologetics is a worthwhile and helpful enterprise, and completely biblical and encouraged by the Church as well.

As for compassion: which I am accused by her over and over of lacking, let me share with you another story. Mary has written a lot about a condition she has which causes her great fatigue and weakness: fibromyalgia. My wife had this, and we cured it (or at least eliminated its symptoms) with diet. One of my sons suffered from a similar malady, Lyme Disease. Mary recently wrote, for example:

I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue and then fibromyalgia, but medicines that show promise in fibromyalgia patients (insofar as there are any) didn’t usually work for me. . . . My fibromyalgia pain got worse and my fatigue was so bad I was sick in bed more and more of the time. (8-24-21)

We are big advocates of holistic health and herbalism, etc., and we know of someone who has helped us and who could help Mary, too, at low cost (since she also writes a lot about the low income of her family).

I sought to share this information with her through a mutual friend (who is, incidentally, pretty far left politically and who was very happy indeed that I had done so, since I was crossing lines and trying to foster unity). And what happened? Nothing. Mary never responded; never acknowledged it. Oh well, what can you do? As they say, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

I wanted to help her feel better. I was trying to live up to St. Paul’s injunction: “that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor 12:25-26). The proposition still stands, should she change her mind and desire to feel much better.

Again, I was trying to apply Jesus’ words: “if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (Lk 6:33). In any event, that is compassion and empathy (a thing Mary continually accuses me — and indeed, apologists as a group — of lacking; she mentions an alleged lack of passion three times): extended towards someone who is not exactly my biggest fan in the world. It’s irrelevant if she is or not. Christians love (“He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still”: 1 Jn 2:9 / “whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother”: 1 Jn 3:10).

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Photo credit: Gerd Altmann [PublicDomainPictures]

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Summary: I respond to a scurrilous hit-piece against me, written by Mary Pezzulo (aka Proud Mary), of Steel Magnificat fame, regarding deconversions. Two sides to every story.

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