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This post was triggered by the discussion of an attempt by a conservative American Republican female, who introduced a bill to criminalise abortion – by the mother. That’s right, if a woman has an abortion – for any reason – she can be charged wit tampering with evidence, which carries a jail term of not less than two, and not more than five years jail.

A Non-Fairy Story…

I’m adopted. I was also the result of one of “god’s gift” – the rape of an under-aged girl.

She was ostracised by her parents, forced into a church-run sanatorium for “wayward girls” (that’s actually what they called rape victims here in the 1960s), give birth at the age of fourteen, and put me up for adoption.

Luckily for her, her parents continued to love her, though the birth process damaged her vagina and uterus terribly.  That’s what religious love will do for your child.

She later married and eventually had two kids of her own.

Luckily for me, she put me up for adoption, and I was placed with a great couple, who  told me most (but not all!) of the story.

Eventually, I was able to track her down with one of the (sadly few) adoption meeting services available in Australia. Then I heard the whole, unvarnished story of my “immaculate” conception.

It wasn’t exactly rape. She had no idea what she was doing, and just let the guy (my shining example of a father) have sex with her half a dozen times or so.

My birth mother was (and still is) an ignorant, unteachable “free spirit” (she hates the word ‘slut’, although she admitted she was the town bike). She wanted to marry my father/sperm donor (although she had so little contact with him, she’s forgotten his name, or what he looked like, or even where it happened – though she does remember it was in the back seat of a “really nice” car).

This puts me squarely in the unenviable position of seeing at least three sides of this situation.  Am I glad I was born? Absolutely. I intend to make a difference to the world. Am I glad my mother was (and still is) the town bike? No. That makes me feel worse than someone’s vomit on the footpath. I was ‘ejecta’, an unfortunate and unwanted side-effect (not her exact words, but close enough). But do I love my birth mother? I’m still thinking about that. So far, no. On the other hand, my desperately hard-working adoptive parents I would gladly die for. My sadness there is that I’m not genetically related to either of them. Luckily, I’ve learned more than I can say from my dad!

But (from my incredibly privileged position as a fully-grown foetus of 49) then do I support religious or conservative views that abortion is ‘evil’, ‘sinful’, or ‘wicked’ in some way? Hell, no! Then do I support a woman’s right to decide what to do with her body? Absolutely, to my dying breath.

Well, having been there, been that, do I believe a foetus is a human being? No, no, no, a thousand times no, unless it can survive outside the mother’s uterus and become a useful human being. Until then it’s nothing but a bunch of cells with no more right to life than a wart. End of discussion. Don’t even think about arguing this point with me.

Would I have written this if my birth mother had been given such a choice as abortion instead of adoption? – unfortunately, I know the answer to this one. When she was “in her cups” one night, she admitted she wouldn’t have gone through with the birth if she’d had an alternative. She later apologised to me if she gave me the wrong impression… But given the physical damage she suffered thanks to her parents being christianists, in hindsight I can’t really blame her. Anyone who does is a monster!

My point is, there will always be people obsessed with ruling over other people. They use anything – lies, deception, holy books written by illiterate goat herders, their own deep sense of disgust at anything to do with someone else having sex or freedom (in other words, the usual conservative and fundamental christianist reasons!) – to gain and maintain control over other people, especially vulnerable people. It’s how they get their kicks.

But they must NOT, ever have the ability to tell anyone, man or woman, what they can and cannot do to or with their body, or who they can or cannot love.

Those people disgust and sadden me even more than my spare mother does.

OK, so what’s “theodicy”, I hear you ask.

(Thanks for asking! That could have been awkward…)

Theodicy (sometimes called “The problem of evil”) is simply the argument that since an all-powerful, truly caring god shouldn’t allow human suffering, there must be some really good reason for such a god allowing human suffering to occur, every day, throughout human history, to billions and billions of innocent people. Mustn’t there?

We call the people who argue that god is behind all this suffering ‘apologists’ – from the greek word ἀπολογία, or ‘apologia’, meaning “verbal defence”, or “speech in defence”.  Although, the modern meaning of the word – someone apologising for the actions, or on the behalf of someone else – works just as well.

You’ve heard the argument a thousand different times, I’m sure : suffering will “build your character”, or “it will make you stronger”, or “it makes you a better person”, or “that will teach those muslims living too close to the sea in Indonesia a lesson”, and so on and so forth. So religious apologists do realise that suffering happens all over the world, that’s beyond argument. From their point of view, from great destruction – hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, plagues, AIDS, cholera, polio – comes great suffering, they argue, and from great suffering comes great good. That’s theodicy in a nutshell.

Now, I suspect that you’ll have spotted the glaring difficulty with this whole concept. It’s not a new difficulty – it’s been a difficulty since the first rational person (most likely just before they were burned at the stake for being such a smartarse, see the various christian inquisitions for more details) asked “Why, if god is so powerful, and so loving, does all this bad stuff happen to all of these people/me?”

Theodicy is, more or less, the list of excuses apologists have come up with, over the millennia, as to why there is so much “evil” (suffering has to have a name) in the world. After all, god is supposed to be omnipotent (meaning he could take away all the evil without any problem or repercussions), omniscient (meaning he knows about all the suffering), infinitely loving (meaning he apparently hates to inflict such suffering on anyone), and infinitely good (meaning he should take away all the evil and suffering in a heartbeat, as any ordinary, non-omnipotent, decent person would). However, it appears that God  doesn’t do any of those things – which begs the question, why not?

The obvious and immediate answer (as any four-year-old knows), he can’t because he doesn’t exist.

Putting the ‘idiocy’ into “Theodicy”

However, people don’t, as a rule, listen to four-year-olds. And since so many people need a religion to make them less scared of death, and since a religion apparently needs a god, and since the god must be all-powerful, all-seeing, and completely loving or he’s not worth the sacrifice, and since those godly virtues are completely incompatible with any deity who’s aware of the extent and depth of human suffering throughout the world but chooses not to intervene, those same religious people rationalise the dichotomy by assuming a) that no-one is truly innocent (the “Original Sin” concept), and b) therefore, that’s the reason why people suffer. That, or people who are suffering must be QED bad people. Either way, they deserve the suffering.

Actually, religious people don’t really think that much about theodicy at all, until something nasty happens directly to them so that they start suffering. However, theodicy is actually inherent in all the major religious belief systems in the world – definitely in the ‘Big 6’ : Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism (which isn’t technically a religion, it just looks like one),  and Mormonism. And it was certainly a problem (though more creatively avoided by less powerful deities and more complex reasoning) in older, dead religions.

But The Devil Made Me Do It!

One of the more asinine and insulting (and therefore one of the most popular!) answers given by religious apologists to this awful conundrum of suffering in the face of a compassionate, all-powerful being, is that it’s not the good guy’s fault after all. No, there’s a kind of anti-god, usually called “the Devil” or “Satan”, who the apologists’ god permits or requires (for some equally asinine and bizarrel reasons) to cause all the suffering in the world. Talk about trying to get a “get out of jail free” card! But that’s the kind of logic people use in order to avoid the terrible cognitive dissonance caused by believing in a great, powerful, invisible being who is apparently unable to affect his creation in any meaningful way except by making people suffer. It’s just such unconvincing logic, and yet it’s persisted for thousands – or even tens of thousands – of years!

Unfortunately for the apologists, this “anti-god” is even more unbelievable than their original proposition  in the first place! I mean, just think about it for a moment. If the “good” god is omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving, how could he possibly allow the presence of such a powerful, demonic “bad” entity working against him? If you or I had god’s powers, and a milligram of true compassion, we’d cut that crap in a heartbeat. After all, if we were truly omnipotent, we’d be easily able to achieve whatever  religious apologists’ believe the point is for suffering – without actually requiring suffering! Duh. But that doesn’t appear to have occurred to any religious apologists. (It’s actually quite strange when people discuss omnipotence, because they all seem to place their own mental limitations on that omnipotence, as though their god must work and think the way they do. I find that very strange… and very human, if inhumane).

On the other hand, if this devil/anti-god is able to do what he or she wants, and god can’t stop them from doing it, then that god is, by any possible definition of the word, not omnipotent. And if they’re not omnipotent, then why pretend they’re gods in the first place? This isn’t rocket science, it’s logic a four-year-old can master. But apparently religious apologists can’t (or won’t) allow themselves to follow any of their ideas to their obvious conclusion. (I assume it’s because they’re all so scared of dying, or having “no reason” to live – at least, these are the common reasons given for not being an atheist. Which is why I feel genuine, deep, and honest pity for anyone with such limited understanding and poor relationship with the rest of humanity. It must be truly awful to live with a mind like that. But I digress…).

So stating the requirement for an anti-god or devil doesn’t make the argument for suffering any less unconscionable – in fact, it makes the original argument even more insidious, since it introduces so many limitations on the abilities and compassion of the original deity! Not only can the god cause suffering, he needs another god in order to do the dirty work! Anyone who argues that concept any further has a very limited grasp of omnipotence, or has some kind of mental block when it comes to logic and human psychology. Of course, that hasn’t stopped many religions from springing up like maggots on a corpse, claiming that the Judeo-Christian god and the devil/anti-god are just “weak underlings” of a more powerful being. However, that’s even more facetious and bizarre than believing in a “good” miracle-working god who’s unable to work miracles when it comes to pain and suffering!

But then so many of those same people (especially fundamentalists, who seem to be the worst bigots, homophobes, misogynists, and fornicators of the religious world) toddle off to see how many of their religion’s commandments they can ignore in one day. For example, they’ll possibly post hate speech against atheists in online forums, or head off to abuse some gays, or take steps to prevent people in third world countries from receiving food or family planning assistance unless they swear to believe in the same god that allows all the suffering; or perhaps they’ll spend the day brainwashing their children – who don’t know any better – into believing the same unfortunate things they do, before jumping into bed with someone who’s not their spouse. It’s apparently actually quite simple, and a lot of fun, being religious! At least, that’s what the statistics say…

The problems I have with theodicy, as a concept, are both personal and general – and so quite separate from the logical fallacy of imagining an omnipotent, omniscient invisible, being in the sky.

God, killing kids? Surely Not!

Honestly, I find that the thought of any person, let alone an omnipotent omniscient completely loving god, who permits young children (who have no possibility of having sinned), to suffer from diseases like cancer, makes me want to punch religious apologists in the face. I’ve seen too many cancer wards in my interminable hospital stays to think otherwise. And I thought spinal wards gave me reason to be thankful for my (comparatively) moderate physical problems!

And while all cancer wards are heartbreaking, by far the worst are the kids’ cancer wards. All the fluffy toys, motivational posters, cheerful staff, balloons, and Glen-20 in the world can’t mask the smell of children suffering terribly.

And yet, that’s what religion, and specifically theodicy, implicitly demands! It means that people believe there is a perfectly reasonable, logical need for their god to insert deadly cancer genes in the growing cells of young children. They feel that there’s a perfectly acceptable reason why their god watches those kids die, taking their parents’ hopes and dreams with them, destroying dreams, lives, and families. They see this kind of awful disease happening, and because they can’t not believe in an all-powerful, all-seeing, all-loving god, they have to justify that belief in terms of their god inflicting that kind of pain and suffering on innocent people for some reason.

So, as a matter of fact and belief, religious apologists are arguing that young children suffering in cancer wards is a good thing.

Why? Well, because… ah…er… Oh, that’s right, because if you’re a Christian, you believe your little three-year-old daughter is “stained” with a “sin” that some stone age priests concocted three thousand years ago, to justify paying them money and keeping them fed without them having to do any useful work! That’s what theodicy means – the bizarre justification of the incoherent worldview of semi-literate pre-Semitic nomads, used to justify an innocent child’s suffering from any of a multitude of diseases.

You just can’t avoid the conclusion. There’s no justifying or softening or avoiding it, despite the best verbal gymnastics of the glibbest apologists. If you believe in an all-powerful God, then you must also believe that God gives completely innocent children lethal diseases because they deserve it. Otherwise, what is such a God’s excuse for permitting – or causing – suffering in the first place?

Rich or Poor, It’s All The Same

But it’s not just infants and children suffering in the first world that “shows” just how effective the “powerful” and “merciful” and “loving” God is at causing human suffering. Oh no. This God doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor. That would be unethical. That would be, by their own scriptural definition, immoral.

Sir David Attenborough found out during his extensive travels around the world that there are tiny, almost invisible worms in the drinking water in some African countries. Since god apparently makes everything (according to the religious scriptures of nearly every religion, past and present, and in direct contravention of the established facts of evolution), then he must have made these little worms too. Now, any kids who swim in the water get attacked by those tiny, little worms that God made. The worms go for the children’s eyes – they quite literally chew their way through the child’s eyeball and proceed to grow and live in the child’s eye itself (I’m not making this up!), until the child goes blind a couple of months later.

Let me just reiterate. According to the doctrine of theodicy, this suffering is somehow good for the children, who are now blind! This is God allowing children to suffer, because… well… he apparently doesn’t want them not to suffer! But just to make sure they don’t miss out on any of the side-effects, God makes sure those children feel an incredible amount of pain while the worm is growing. This God has had some major problems with attention to detail (for example, the terrible “construction” of the human eye itself, or the shockingly flawed spinal column, or the individual variations in arteries supplying blood down the spine), but not when it comes to children suffering. Then, God really seems to lift his game.

God Gets Personal

Those examples of human suffering caused by god are what apologists call “general (or impersonal) evil”. That’s just part of nature’s way, according to them; just part of the way their God designed the world to work. But general suffering doesn’t just have to be biological in origin, according to the apologists. It can also be purely mechanistic, as in earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, or just traffic accidents. God apparently has fingers in every pie, and is some sort of creative genius when it comes to methods of inflicting suffering on individuals, families, towns, cities, and nations. Especially kids. He really loves making children suffer.

But earthquake or disease, predators or floods, none of that’s really personal, is it? You could argue that it’s just random chance – being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the religious God likes things to be personal, mano-a-mano. God likes to look you in the eye as he inflicts misery and suffering on you. And he expects you to thank and praise him before, during, and after the suffering (assuming you live through the tsunami, or bushfire). I’m unsure why this God needs to hear people thank him endlessly – despite having thoroughly and repeatedly read the Christian bible, the Qur’an, and most other religious scriptures, it’s not immediately obvious why you’re expected to thank God for punishing you for a mythical sin he inflicted on you thousands of years before you were born, without your consent. I’ve never heard any learned religious scholar make a believable, logical argument as to why that bit of grovelling is necessary. It just is, OK? OK.

And when it comes to attention to detail, how could such an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving deity possibly miss the opportunity to use his own ‘peeps’, his own officials, to impose the most personal, most grievous bodily and mental suffering on innocent individuals? A god would have to be mad to give up the chance to take advantage of the deep trust placed in his officials by his misguided followers! So he doesn’t miss that opportunity. Oh, no, quite the contrary. He takes advantage of this with both hands. He uses other people to do his dirty work, and when he wants some extra special suffering, he uses his own religious staff!

Religion and Crime : Horse and Carriage, or Hose and Fire?

God could, and does, allow rape, murder, torture, violence, and war, pretty much solely for the sake of religion. At least, that’s what the statistics show – more than 80% of incarcerated criminals are actively religious, while less than 0.1% are atheists, which means that no matter how apologists spin the data, religious people account for at least 4 out of 5 crimes committed. Of course, that only reflects modern religious freedom to claim you’re not religious. Previously, nearly 100% of prisoners were religious, in which case every single crime committed and punished was perpetrated by a follower of God.

This in turn means that either religion isn’t a particularly effective means of controlling crime, or that God has a penchant for using his people to commit crimes and impose untold suffering on other people. Once again, the idea of theodicy means that either God approves of this eternal crime spree – in which case, it begs the question of what kind of God he is – or that this God has no ability or power to stop such crimes, in which case, why is he so revered and seen as all powerful? Or could it be that religious judges and jurors throughout history have it “in” for God’s children? Yeah, right.

Again, irrefutable statistics show that religion is strongly linked to increased child abuse, crime, sexually transmitted diseases, and even negative societal health (in other words, the more religious a society is, the less happy people within that society are). I need only point to theocratic states like Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea (the Kim family was officially declared to be divine, which makes the necrocratic government fully religious in nature), Yemen, most of the African states, the United States of America (which currently has the second-highest infant mortality rate in the world, due mainly to poor education as religious home schooling numbers increase and more religious followers refuse to accept medical assistance because it’s somehow evil), as an unarguable catalogue of countries with strong religious backgrounds (or governments) with many, many fundamental societal problems due in most part to religious beliefs. So if living in a religious country isn’t a definition of suffering, I don’t know what is.

Online, Christian Soldiers!

And let’s not forget the religious followers themselves. After nearly thirty years online, in quite literally thousands of discussions, weblog discussions, and forums for every conceivable aspect of life, I can state without exception or exaggeration that the worst – the very worst – purveyors of vitriol, bigotry, homophobia, hate, foul language, personal invective, misogyny, misandry, and the most disgusting and inappropriate human interactions imaginable are started, prolonged, and/or extended by active, passionately religious fundamentalists, most of whom proudly and loudly call themselves Christians or Muslims.

The astonishingly bad language has to be seen and heard to be believed. Incoherent rants full of swearwords, lots of uppercase letters, and threats of hell, damnation, and murder are fairly typical of the worst examples of fundamentalist Christian and Muslim followers. And the most ardent such religious followers are the very same ones who threaten other people – and even other religious followers they disagree with – with spite, violence, and even death, with a vehemence that is truly frightening in its intensity. Of course, there are many more religious people online who don’t sink to the levels of these psychotic monsters, but the volume and vehemence of the psychotic few swamp the more measured and reasonable members. It seems that most Christians and Muslims go out of their way to break as many commandments and laws of their religion as possible when arguing their point of view. How does this make them good believers?

Here’s a reasonable, peaceable, friendly Muslim. I wonder if he’d like a copy of this cartoon I drew?

I do realise this digression has little to do directly with suffering, except that the targets of the worst of the fundamentalist Christians surely suffer when their lives are threatened! It is difficult to explain the level of fear and suffering experienced by kind, gentle, rational, reasonable adults whose selves and whose children are threatened by Christians with anger issues, but it’s real enough. And it’s not just Christian fundamentalists with attitude problems and difficulties adhering to their religion’s rules. Muslims, Mormons, and Jews can be just as creatively disgusting with their attitudes.

Remember, these are devout followers of the same God(s) we see powerful church leaders, such as George Pell (archbishop of Sydney, and a religious apologist par excellence pictured at left), the Archbishop of Canterbury,the many hundreds of Popes, thousands of Imams, and hundreds of thousands of deacons, ministers, and pastors, representing their religion in public and the media. So it’s not only the same god, but the same religious organisations inflicting suffering on people, now and all down through the centuries.

Of course, it’s not just the Christian god we must discuss here, it’s also the Jewish and Islamic deities. After all, they can’t all be right in claiming a single god for each of them! There’s either just one such imaginary being, in which case at least two of those religions have been wrongfully misguiding and punishing people for century after century; or else they’re all right, in which case there’s more than one imaginary being (or they all share the same deity). And in that case their fundamental understandings are inherently incorrect, since they base their claims to truth on the fact that there is only one god – their own! And, if it’s some kind of a “shared” God, the descriptions and attributes in each of the Gods as clearly and distinctly described by the three religions’ scriptures, are so fundamentally and ethically different in so many respects, that again, they simply can’t all be correct – in which case at least one, possibly two, and probably all three are completely invalid and therefore nonexistent! So any way you cut the cake, they all lose! Of course, the argument and conclusions are only valid assuming a supernatural deity exists, and is omnipotent, and omniscient, and all-loving, and has been solely responsible for deliberately causing mind-boggling amounts of horrific – and completely unnecessary – human suffering and death for tens of thousands of years. Which brings us back, neatly, to theodicy.

But let’s get back to the use of this god’s officials as instruments of torture, shall we?

Child Abuse by Priests – All Part Of God’s Plan!

So if the religious apologists are correct about theodicy – and the existence of their God – then that all-loving and all-powerful and all-seeing deity, having total control over everyone and everything, apparently twists his priests’ thoughts around to fucking little boys and girls who are left under their power, raping them until they bleed. The priests generally rape the children repeatedly, forcing them to suck their penises (because the vast, overwhelming majority of sexual crimes in the religious institutions all throughout the centuries have been men) and perform other, even more violent and indecent acts. And they don’t just do it once – they can prey on the same child for decades!

By the way, I’ll use the word “priest” to mean any religious clergy, whether it be priest, imam, minister, archbishop, pastor, or shaman, since they all perform essentially the same useless function in each respective religion, and every level of every religion’s earthly hierarchy has been implicated in one way or another with child abuse!

Now child abuse is a serious enough problem on its own. It should be more than enough to make the rest of the clergy, in whatever religious order, hunt down these child-molesting perverts and bring them to justice. After all, if you or I knew about such things going on in our organisation, we’d do the same. Right? So why don’t the other priests do just that?

Cardinal Brady, who paid children to keep quiet about sexual abuse by priests in his diocese.

That’s a really good question, isn’t it? Perhaps you should ask church officials, like Archbishop George Pell, why so many child molesters aren’t brought forward for punishment. And those same clergy – and George Pell in particular is a clear example – will stand and argue that their omnipotent, omniscient, ever-loving god approved – and caused! – that suffering to happen, but somehow it’s not their fault.

Timmy’s Story : God Punishes Little Boys Using Priests

And you know what’s even more horrific? Many – if not most – of the paedophilic priests use that same argument of “original sin” in order to take advantage of the children under their care!

“You’ve been a bad little boy, Timmy, haven’t you?” goes one victim’s recollection. “You have to accept God’s punishment for being a bad boy. Do you know what that punishment is, Timmy? Here, let me show you what you have to put in your mouth to show God that you love him and you’re sorry for sinning.”

I really, truly hope you’re as disgusted by this behaviour by religious priests as I am. Because if you’re not, then you’re as bad as one of them. This is the “first fruit” of theodicy. This is what belief in a supernatural being, with no evidence whatsoever to support its existence, does. This is exactly what comes from believing that the invisible, supernatural deity created people with some sort of imaginary and disgusting and inhuman “sin” on their “souls”. This is what arguing that pain and suffering is caused by, or is approved by, that impotent, irresponsible deity! This is what that omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving, all-merciful God causes (or, at the very least, allows) to happen, according to the religious apologists’ views.

Father Shawn Ratigan, a creator and purveyor of child pornography.

This has been happening to Timmies since the first stone-age priest decided he didn’t want to have sex with sheep or his wife any more, he liked the looks of little Timmy’s sweet arse. But how could he convince Timmy to do that horrible thing with him, and yet not tell his parents? “Oh, I know, I’ll tell little Timmy that God wants him to take his pants off and let me fondle him. Since I’m a priest, he’ll believe me! Oh, Lord, thank you! Thank you!”

Tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, but much more likely tens of millions of little boys and little girls, suffered because their parents told them to trust the priest, and that God allowed suffering, and suffering was good for them. All through the ages, victims of priests and nuns, victims of imams (hell, we already know beyond any doubt that the muslim leader Mohammed, in his 50s, married a nine-year-old virgin girl, a trick the Mormon Joseph Smith took out of that book), victims of rabbis, victims of pre-Neanderthalic thinking, victims of religion, victims of religious apologists and their God phantasy.

What kind of a monster do you have as a God to imagine in order to equate that kind of power and that kind of suffering with religion? Don’t forget, Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha all wrote that suffering, this exact kind of suffering spoken of above, was to be expected, and even welcomed, by followers of their all-powerful gods. Talk about a perfect plot!

My Own Suffering As a Tool To Uncover Religious Suffering

The personal aspect to my difficulty believing a god like the apologists posit, was closer to home, my own physical situation.

In fact, the knowledge that if a god exists, he’s taken exquisite care to damage my spine to the point where it’s difficult to wake up in the morning, because I know how my day is going to go along in agony, is one of the most powerful arguments against believing in such a being and such an idea as creating or permitting suffering. At least, it’s been that way for me for over 30 years – without missing a single day. Some days the pain is worse, some days it’s not much worse than a bad toothache. I live for those days, when I don’t mentally scream myself awake in the morning, or lie awake at night

My qualifications for discussing pain and suffering.

until 3 or 4 AM because it feels like I’m lying on a bed of superheated spikes.

I prayed for years. I was a devout, fundamental, evangelical believer in God, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit. I prayed deeply, genuine, heartfelt, passionate, faithful, absolutely accepting, prayers. For over six years. God wasn’t listening, it seems. Either that, or he wanted to teach me something. But what?

Now, I don’t even *begin* to equate my suffering with cancer victims, or victims of religious predators (or anyone else, for that matter), but my own, particular, suffering is something I learned to use as a tool to understand there was no God.

My Mum, to this day, finishes every phone call to me with “You’re in my prayers. I’m praying to god to take away your pain”.

It simply hasn’t occurred to her that her prayers not only haven’t been answered (after 31 years!), but I’m getting worse!

Pissing Into the Wind

I tried -once- to point the utter futility and cruelty of her belief to her. I won’t try it again.

A few months ago, dad had a bunch of heart attacks in a couple of days. He was hurting badly: this hero of a guy, the best, toughest, most laconic man I’ve ever met, was crying with pain, unable to breathe, and couldn’t even take a dozen steps. I eventually got to the hospital (I couldn’t actually walk properly when this happened, so it took a lot of morphine, sufentanyl, oxycontin, and digesic to get me moving well enough to drive home, and I tried to do the little I could to be there for him and Mum. I interpreted the medical jargon (specialists truly aren’t equipped to deal with most normal people like Mum and Dad), and explained what the surgeons were doing, what the tests were for, etc. Trying to be a good son, I guess.

Well, thanks to the truly astounding technological advances we’ve made recently, and thanks to his impressively healthy lifestyle and attitude, he recovered fully (he’s better than ever!).

So he and I both went out of our way to thank all the staff who kept him alive. It was a delicious feeling, being able to express our appreciation and thanks for their dedication. And my Dad, my hero, was back. Oh, he still has terrible spinal arthritis, as well as arthritis in his arms and hands and fingers, but he’s out and about, spraying the fruit trees, mowing the lawn, walking the bush. He’s doing what he wants and needs to do to be himself. And that’s a pretty damn good result. And he didn’t mention God once during this whole terrible time. Who knows, perhaps he’d had enough of theodicy by then too.

But shortly afterwards, during a follow up phone call, mum went on and on about what a miracle her prayers had achieved for him. I couldn’t help myself – I asked her right then who she thought was responsible for his heart problems in the first place? If God fixed him, who broke him?

Oh, that wasn’t God, it was the devil, she replied.

I asked her if she thought her god was all-powerful, and she said of course god is infinitely powerful, he moves the sun and earth and stars. So I asked her why, if God was so powerful, he couldn’t prevent the devil from giving dad such a terrible few weeks and even taking him quite literally to the brink of death, many times? Oh, he could’ve prevented it, she said, you see, it was a lesson!

I couldn’t help myself. “Who was the lesson for, mum? For you? Have you been evil? Was it for dad’s good? And what was the lesson? That you’ve been evil? That you’re being punished for Original Sin? That you’re mortal? That Dad can suffer, so he made him suffer? That’s what a kid does with a magnifying glass on an ant’s nest! Not what a powerful God does to a decent man or to his wife! Have a think about the kind of God who needs to break something that’s working perfectly in order to fix it -just so you’ll remember to thank him for his goodness and power.”

Yeah. I made my 82-year-old Mum cry on the phone, and “took away her meaning of life”. I wish I’d succeeded, but I’m not going to try again.

She still tells everyone who’ll listen about the “miracle”, but not in my hearing. Or, interestingly, in dad’s hearing. That’s new -and hopeful.

But you just can’t argue with stupid.

Conclusion : Theodicy Is For Idiots!

Theodicy, then, is composed of equal parts of stupidity, ignorance, idiocy, cognitive dissonance, and a spectacular inability to accept reality for what it is.

Anyone who argues that their god, or their anti-god, uses suffering for any reason – any reason at all – is the least compassionate human being you will meet today. Why? As I’ve shown in so many ways, inflicting suffering, even for the best reasons in the world, is nothing short of torture. Any rational, intelligent, compassionate God with any power at all would be smart enough to find another way to achieve their goals without resorting to individual or mass torture. Any such being who must be apologised for by devoted followers as an arbiter of pain, in an attempt to rationalise suffering, is not worthy of existing, let alone being relied on to guide or justify anyone’s life! And the more intelligent and omnipotent the being, the more deplorable their actions, and the actions and excuses of their followers.

If push came to shove, not one of these apologists would willingly follow the teachings of an avowed rapist, or child molester, or serial murderer, or child killer, so why do these people willingly and delightedly follow a God with these exact skills? Why is it that religious believers of every persuasion attack and denigrate atheists unmercifully? Could it be that they’re jealous of the fact that we are compassionate, rational, and supremely “moral” by their own standards, while they believe that without their God, their religion, they themselves would turn into child molesters, murderers, or rapists? After all, that’s the most common argument used by religious people against atheists! And yet, more than 80% of the prison population is religious!

Thanks, but No Thanks : I’ll Take My Reality Neat

It is overwhelmingly probable, based on the last few thousand years of advancements in science and human psychology, that those who class themselves as atheists (including myself) are completely correct about supernatural deities. Our sure and proven knowledge that suffering is a by-product of living in a universe ignorant of our existence totally and utterly negates any religious misanthropic justification of suffering as some sort of deserved punishment for a sin concocted by a guy in a tent who thought the earth was flat and had four corners.

We don’t make up causes to blame for suffering, we get on with dealing with it, supporting one another without regard for race, colour, sexual persuasion, or religious illusion.

We understand that there is no afterlife. That is one of the most powerful and reasonable and liberating truths we know as intelligent beings! That knowledge allows us to concentrate on the here and now, on living to our fullest capacity, and of enjoying what we have, while we have it. That makes so much more sense than hiding from the reality of thermodynamic laws and telling ourselves and each other that we’re going to live forever, so we don’t actually need to do more than just the basic requirements for a fictitious and demeaning afterlife.

We do what’s moral, what’s trueand what’s rightbecause they’re the right things to do, here and now. We don’t need to keep a mental scorecard, checking to see if we’ve done enough good to get us to the Pearly Gates, and doing nothing if we’re “in the black”! We do things because they need to be done, not because we’re afraid other people will notice we’re doing nothing at all.

We don’t mutilate our bodies or minds because some stone age holy men thought it would be fun or somehow important to hack the ends of our penises or clitorises off.

We don’t teach our children about our own religious attitudes before they’re old enough to understand that they’ve been brainwashed. We look at the world around us and think, “How marvellous, how beautiful, how incredibly lucky we are!”, not “Ooooh, someone made all this for us, so we should ignore everything to do with learning about it, and try to stop other people learning about it, because we’re going to have it all again, because we’re going to live forever instead of dying!”

We treat each other, regardless of religion, sexual orientation, mental capacity, skin colour, speech or physical defect, as we would like to be treated ourselves – with dignity, compassion, intelligence, and, yes, love. Unlike Christians, we don’t create websites called GodHatesFags.com because we’re so insecure in our own sexuality that we don’t want to, or have the capacity to, understand another person’s point of view. (Isn’t it interesting that the people who declare that their invisible, unknowable, supernatural deity punishes people who are different to themselves, take it upon themselves to instigate the punishment? Wouldn’t that be a self-fulfilling prophecy? Isn’t that just psychological projection?)

And most of all, we don’t look at a major catastrophe, such as the recent earthquake in Haiti, or the Boxing Day tsunami in Asia, or the collapse of the World Trade Centre, and decide not to help the people there because the catastrophe was some kind of arbitrary punishment from an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving supernatural deity incapable of teaching by any other method. No, we roll up our sleeves, get in a plane or boat, or train or car, or just dig in our wallets, and try our damnedest to help the survivors get back to their lives, and mourn their losses, and learn to look forward again to next year.

Instead of finding someone to blame for a disaster, we take reasonable, rational, compassionate, humane steps to ensuring that if it happens again (and it will, because that’s how the universe works) we minimise the loss, the grief, the sadness, and the suffering. My question to religious apologists is this : If we ordinary humans who are powerless can do these great things, why can’t God – who is omnipotent – do the same? Why can’t religious apologists and believers?

As someone who suffers from chronic spinal damage, what I find worst of all is that many people who approve of the idea of theodicy are the people with the least experience of true suffering. Anyone with chronic pain, anyone affected by cancer, anyone who’s the victim of a paedophile, or has first-hand experience with any of the myriad ways humans can suffer in their lives, knows in their heart that any divine being who permitted the least amount of pain or suffering is a being to be scorned and maligned and disbelieved. The kind of all-powerful God who inflicts pain but doesn’t alleviate it, is a disgusting, despicable, psychopathic, homicidal, inhuman construct, and by their own definition is as evil as evil can get.

The universe is a big place. We’re a tiny speck of insignificance. The universe doesn’t care if we live or die, how we live or die, or how much suffering we have to put up with. The only thing that makes a difference is our own lives – the people we surround ourselves with, the people who love us and care about us, who want to help us deal with our suffering, instead of clinically trying to “make sense” of it. Those people, those amazing relationships are what makes life worth living, and worth living well. Not some fantastic imaginary invisible bearded faery in the sky handing out punishment for wrongs never committed: that kind of deplorable faery tale is for the selfish, the childish, those with a fear of loving, and those fearful of living according to our true, compassionate, bizarre, funny, amazing human natures. That punishment from the sky thing’s not for me, and I hope I’ve convinced you it shouldn’t be your hope either.

I’d rather die than believe in such a cruel despicable, and evil God. You see, I like people.

But since that God quite obviously simply cannot exist – hooray! – I can live to the fullness of whatever remains of my life, rich with compassion, love, terrible pain, honour, sadness, honesty, joy, learning, and friendship, and the knowledge that we are far, far better than any Christian, Islamic, or Judaic God(s) has ever been.

Amen.

– Cephas Q. Atheos

So who the hell is this guy?

Your host. Makes me sound like I’m harbouring a virus, doesn’t it?

I’m a semi-retired self-taught polymath, a lover of science, and an passionate student of nature. In other words, a metaphysical naturalist, as was Charles Darwin, Robert Hooke, Leibniz, and (I’m sure) many millions of other rational, passionate, questioning (but far less famous) people.

My original training was in electronic communication systems with Telecom Australia, later branching into circuit design and fabrication. I’ve also had around 30 years of commercial and personal software development. However, I’m also deeply interested in, and pretty damn handy at a fairly eclectic range of activities, including :

  • Astronomy (including cosmology, cosmogony, and stellar physics)
  • Audio digitisation, capture, analysis, and restoration (my day job)
  • Car and motorcycle racing (amateur, at least pre-spinal injury)
  • Car and motorcycle tuning and rebuilding
  • Cookin’ up a storm
  • Database development and management (C/S and tiered, RDBMS and flat)
  • Heraldry (because you never know when you’ll need a bar sinister)
  • Music (playing pretty much anything badly, and some surprisingly good composing)
  • Pain medicine; particularly neurophysiology and neuroanatomy, as well as neuropharmacology
  • Poetry (improving every year)
  • Religious textual criticism (because you need to know where the BS comes from to kill it off)
  • Robotics (again, surprisingly good ideas, but without much mechanical engineering skill)
  • Roman history (Gibbon’s three volumes are so cracked and dog-eared, but it’s such a hoot!)
  • Website design and development (since 1992!)
  • Whitegoods repair; and even
  • Wildlife photography (Australian fauna & flora, astronomical stuff, and some really weird shit)!

I’ve been lucky enough to gain experience with many of these subjects as paid work, for which I’m eternally grateful! There’s nothing that will hone your skills like people expecting a bit more than they paid for, which is always a great way to learn stuff!

Basically, you can give me a non-functioning car, television, tractor, aeroplane, robot, or hovercraft, and I’ll probably be able to fix it, and I may even have some bits left over at the end!

I’ve actually spent most of the last decade working as an audio restoration specialist. This combines a few of my passions, notably music, a rather good ear for noise and distortion, bleeding-edge computing (including RAID 5 storage systems, liquid cooling, and 64-bit OSes when RAIDs, liquid cooling, and 64-bit OSes were a bit of a novelty), and customer interaction. It turned out that I was great at what I loved, so again I lucked in.

Unfortunately, a medical issue has cut back my hours of formal work sitting up, but with wifi and laptops, I can almost keep in touch with the world just as well lying down for 20 hours a day.

From mechanical… …to anatomical!

I’m also learning to properly and fully understand how the human body (particularly my human body) works, at the level of the individual cell mechansims, cellular DNA structure and replication, gene expression, organ function and dysfunction, pharmacological intervention, and most particularly (because of my spinal problems) pain and neurophysiology. I understand (and I’m growing quite familiar with) the various structures and features of human anatomy and physiology, such as the most “popular” organs and tissue types! (Brain, central and peripheral nervous system, liver, and colon-related stuff, mainly due to the impact on all of these and the side effects of all the painkillers I’m on).

I actually understand (roughly at the equivalent of a third- or fourth-year medical student, and improving every week) how neurones work, how pain helps and hinders us physically and emotionally, and how pain is detected, transduced, transmitted (electrically and chemically), how it’s relayed, and how it’s perceived and integrated within various brain regions. This includes intercellular (and extracellular) signalling, various protein and amine synthesis, hormone traffic, gene expression, upregulation, and various cascade sequences. It’s surprisingly fun to learn just how complex and sophisticated our neural system is. We take so darn much for granted, awake or asleep, and there are so many layers and feedback loops and scatter/gather circuits that it’s amazing it all works at all, let alone grows, self-maintains, and does it’s best under terrible damage. Just incredible.

The Pain Train

Surprisingly, pain medicine is one of the last great outliers of our medical understanding. You’d be shocked at the immense number of processes and functions we have absolutely no idea as to how they actually do stuff, in terms of signalling, modulation, perception, transmission, and reflection, at the atomic all the way up to the macroscopic! So many chapters in all the textbooks finish off with the words “we don’t fully understand the regulatory process interaction”, or “This is an area of great opportunity to up-and-coming researchers”, or “How does this happen? We just don’t know”! I guess it’s a really exciting time to be a neural researcher – a bit like the 1960s were the new frontier in space technology and exploration.

Areas that are changing with each new discovery range from ion channels and ligand-gated cascades, to exactly what a pain receptor looks like. We actually have very few clear images, believe it or not, although that is now changing month by month, at long last, as gene synthesis allows some of these structures to be grown or duplicated away from the live cells.  We know there are about 5 or 6 different major neural cell membrane receptor types, but there seem to be more subtypes every time we get close to a definitive list! Mostly, what we have is guesswork and estimations that rely on the massive advances in physical nerve imaging, functional brain mapping (PET, MRI, fMRI, CT, and so on) and single-channel current measurements. Yes, you can actually take a single G-coupled protein receptor (GCPR) on the surface of a single nerve cell, isolate it, and turn it on and off like a light switch! Naturally, this is a gross and clumsy oversimplification of how the body fine-tunes absolutely everything, but it’s becoming just a little easier to get closer to controlling and characterising individual structures almost as cleverly as the body does. But it’s still a jungle in there!

Worth the hard work? Yep.

As I said, this means that neurology is one of the most fascinating and exciting areas to have an interest in right now. Oh, sure, there are plenty of other areas of medicine that are growing and expanding almost as quickly as the neurosciences, but when you think about it (pun intended), pain and neural signalling defines what we are, and how we perceive reality. So learning this stuff is like looking into your own mind from behind. Unfortunately, as I’m not a medical person, I’m looking over the shoulders of many, many researchers and specialists, and the medical arena is one of the last bastions of the “old school” privy groups and ancient orders of chirurgeons and so on. And even more sadly, I know that’s unlikely to change in any way that helps me learn more. But at least I can cheer on the teams, and learn something new and exciting every day. What’s not to like?

Unfortunately, I have to focus on one area, because I’ll never have the time and resources to understand everything! So I’m primarily interested in understanding – and contributing to in a meaningful way – opioid pharmacology, as well as alternatives to pharmaceutical interventions such as hypnosis, stimulants, depressants, molecular agonists and antagonists, breaking the cycles of internal cascades, NO (nitric oxide) synthesis and the terrible damage that does, and so on. Unfortunately though, everything that we can point to as a byproduct or enhancer of pain also tends to be critically required for the smooth functioning of the rest of the nervous system! So it’s not an easy thing to find a way in that won’t render you retarded, congenitally blind or deaf, or worse (and there are worse things than those when your nervous system goes off the rails, let me tell you!).

Unfortunately, my inability to comprehend higher-order mathematics (I can just barely integrate and differentiate, but it hurts!) severely limits my understanding of the deepest underlying explanations for many of my most passionate interests (astronomy in particular). Luckily though, at the moment the requirement for the level of competence I’m at doesn’t need much more than basic maths and a bit of statistics. So far, so good…

So why pain and neurology, exactly?

I have a really badly damaged spinal area, right between the shoulder-blades. This is usually called the thoracic spine. In my case, only a very few thoracic vertebrae (T8, T9, and T10) were damaged by a number of accidents I “participated in” while I was a motorcycle rider (1981-1995).

This area of the spine was “fused” (a laminectomy) by fixing two vertical plates along the damaged part of my spine, and these are screwed to the vertebrae using 35mm (about an inch and a third) titanium bone screws into two bony columns (the pedicles) that extend from the front of the spine – where the discs go – to the back of the spine, where the bony spines stick out that you can feel in your own back. A part of my iliac crest (the left pelvis) was chipped off and pulverised and then placed around the metalwork, after grinding off some of the surface of the joined vertebrae. This bone material acts something like living cement – the bone all grew together, so it’s a living part of the “repair”.

Here’s what it looks like under x-ray fluoroscopy (like a shadowed version of plain x-rays):

Thoracic fusion (bars and screws) plus the old mechanical pump

And just so the context is clear, this is more or less the full spinal image, below. You can also see the scoliosis (bend in the spine from the left to the right) that’s giving me some curry at the moment.

What stays up…

Pumps One through Five

The fusion was done in 1992, by Mr Graeme Brazenor at Epworth Hospital in Melbourne. While it helped the pain tremendously, it didn’t completely fix the problem (plus, the damage is spreading as the top and bottom joints of the fused clump have to work much harder than when the whole spine could articulate). And I’m not getting any younger, sadly.

So in 2000, I had a device called an intrathecal pump implanted in my chest, which delivers painkilling drugs via a tiny tube (catheter) that runs over my ribs and down my back to near the base of my spine. This ends in a tiny pair of beautifully-crafted tubes which are inserted between the spinal cord itself and the complicated “wrapping” around the cord (called the “subarachnoid space”, because the “arachnoid mater” – the outer part or sleeve around the spinal cord itself – looks a hell of a lot like a spider’s web!).

After running through the normal opioids in quick succession (morphine, pethedine, midazolam, then a bupivacaine and marcaine cocktail, then fentanyl), my own research turned up stuff called sufentanyl, which is a morphine-like synthetic drug that’s around 3,000 times stronger than morphine. My pain management specialist agreed it was worth a try, and it seems to be working reasonably well.

That little pump (a Medtronics Synchromed II 40) consists of an expandable reservoir (40ml, as you’d guess from the model name!), plus a small management computer and an incredibly engineered rotary compression pump. The pain management specialist (an anaesthetist by trade, due to the type of drugs used) fills the reservoir by using a special “non-coring” hypodermic needle that goes in through my chest wall, through an extremely robust self-healing silicone “bung” (you can see it in the very centre of the image below, the whitish looking translucent circle), and into the reservoir. Then they can program the pump using a small hand-held computer with a RF antenna that works through the skin. I’m also able to use a device called a PA (patient administrator) to tell the pump to give me an extra “surge” every now and then, when I need extra pain relief.

The intrathecal pump – an internal view

When is a pump not a pump?

The original pump was installed in 2000, and it’s been replaced five times. The first two times, the pump was replaced (by one of Australia’s best neurosurgeons, Graeme Brazenor) because the battery ran out. The pump typically runs for about 4-5 years limited by the internal battery. The battery life depends on how much drug needs to be delivered, how hard the pump has to work, how hot I get,  and so on.

Unfortunately, after my long-term pain management specialist retired, things started to go terribly wrong.

The pump was replaced a third time – and then had to be removed and reinserted a fourth time, two months later, because the new specialist (an anaesthetist who, it turned out, had delusions of surgical adequacy) screwed up the operation. Twice. The first time, he destroyed the catheter – which meant that he didn’t actually test the new pump before sewing me up! Not only that, but he was a lazy son of a bitch, so instead of using the correct tools, he took a shortcut – which resulted in my getting another scar, which was unexpected (to say the least!). I had terrible problems from the moment I woke up postoperatively. The nursing staff were beside themselves, as they could see and hear how much pain I was in, but the new pain specialist didn’t listen to or believe me (or the nurses).

In fact, it took me nearly three months to finally convince him that he and his little protégé had botched what was an extremely simple operation. And then the same incompetent idiot left too much of the replacement catheter curled up around the pump, instead of trimming it to length as specified by the manufacturer. You can begin to understand what kind of a professional this guy was, can’t you?

So shortly after the ‘fixup’ operation, the catheter got twisted and intermittently crimped itself off, a bit like a garden hose that’s been bent too much! (That’s why the manufacturer recommended that the catheter be cut to suit). It took me another two and a half years to convince anyone that there was a real, serious problem AGAIN.

Tweedledum and Tweedledumber

Meanwhile, I’d had a fairly robust disagreement with Dr Courtney after I recommended that he hospitalise me to radically increase the medication level – which he did (hospitalise me) but then didn’t increase the medication to anywhere near the recommended level! I was frustrated, in awful pain (the pump still wasn’t working properly, although I didn’t know that it was the crimped catheter that was making things difficult for me), and he refused point-blank to increase the dose to an equivalent of about 10% of the pre-operative (pre-the first operation he bunged up, anyway) dose. I was in tears, on my knees, literally begging him to give me some pain relief…but he stormed off in anger and left me there like a fart in a bottle.

Well, I had nowhere else to go, so I discharged myself from his clutches (that’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like that!), a couple of nurses who’d overheard the “conversation” dropped by to give me a hug and a kiss goodbye – once again, the professional nursing staff could see how much pain I was in, while the pain specialist shouted at me to be quiet because I didn’t know what I was talking about!) That’s the kind of bullshit chronic pain patients have to deal with here in the Middle Ages of Pain Medicine in Australia. I kid you not. So I got home, filled a couple of prescriptions for pethedine, and self-administered that until it ran out, and I could get the sufentanyl in the pump via the new, improved pain specialist. That’s what I was reduced to. I shudder to think what other patients without my kind of medical knowledge would do…

But the saga didn’t end there. Oh no! Courtney’s sidekick, Andrew Muir, (who’s apparently a technically brilliant anaesthetist) contacted my wife shortly after the hospital discharge SNAFU, and asked us to meet him at a different suite of offices to where we usually went to see him. We did so, expecting his usually chatty, humorous self… but this time, he flew into a rage, furiously accusing me of faking my injury and pain, then he advised me to seek psychiatric help, as I didn’t have a physical pain problem (!!) Then he took a nasty verbal swipe at my original pain management specialist, accused him of operating outside medical safety limits, then told us to leave. Now, the pain manager he abused had retired (hence our dependence on the new hero), and he was one of the most compassionate men in pain medicine in Australia. Hell, he became a bit of a friend to Fran and I, as you’d expect after 16 years of treatment!

I’m not making any of this shit up. This is what happened, almost verbatim. You can see what we have to put up with here in Australia. And believe it or not, Andrew Muir is regarded (probably rightly) as one of Australia’s leading edge anaesthetists! Pity he didn’t have a bit of compassion for his patients…

So, after all that crap, for the past three years, I’ve been in terrible daily pain, over and above what the pump used to manage, while the various specialists refused to believe that anything was wrong with their surgical work, then hurriedly covered it up after I rubbed their noses in it, then they retaliated like little kids in a playground. So there we all were, waiting patiently to find another pain manager, and hoping like hell we found one with a human heart. Fingers crossed!

I guess the moral to the story in this case is that when the technology works, it works really well; but when less than competent people are involved in such delicate and difficult work, it’s very easy to get a spectacularly terrible result!

But wait – there’s more!

So after all the embarrassing bullshit from the two twits, we eventually found another pain specialist who installed a neural stimulator in my buttock. This is kinda like a TENS machine (transcutaneous electronic neural stimulation) that you see people using to help with muscle sprains and so on, only in my case, it’s installed under the skin and directly attached to the muscles under my shoulders and around the thoracic spine. The control unit is recharged through the skin, using radio-frequency energy transfer to recharge, which is pretty cool technology!

OK, truthfully the stimulator doesn’t help directly with the pain – after all, it’s actually masking one pain with a slightly less intense one! – but it does give me much better flexibility and movement, as it seems to reduce the muscle spasms a little, and that’s good enough for me!

Unfortunately, I couldn’t convince this new surgeon to put it in my right pectoral (chest) wall, like the pump that’s on the left, so it’s been shoved under my gluteal muscle. Unfortunately, as I’m the patient and I have to charge it, the placement makes it incredibly difficult to charge, as the charging plate (antenna) has to be pressed hard up against the muscle. That makes it fairly uncomfortable to recharge for more than a few minutes, and since it takes around 3-4 hours to fully recharge, I don’t use it as much as I’d like. But it’s there in an emergency, as long as I remember to part charge it each day.

And for the sake of completeness, here’s what I currently look like in x-ray images :

All three devices – fusion (upper middle); Intrathecal pump (upper right); and neural stimulator (lower left and dotted lines in top half of the image)

So there you have it. That’s the whole reason I’m so interested in pain and neurology – it’s my raison d’être, if you will. The terrible treatment I received over the past three years has just given me the courage and determination to take something positive out of the whole shitfight.

The way I figure it, is that I have to live with it, day after day, so why not learn what’s going on, so I’m teaching myself the required medical knowledge, and maybe I can help other people who are in the same situation, but who, for whatever reasons, can’t take the opportunity to learn all this fascinating stuff. That’s my hope, anyway.

And I’d rather have interested people be able to see what is possible, and why it sometimes goes wrong, than to just mumble something about computers, and pretend that it’s always perfect. Because I can assure you, it’s not. But it’s a hell of a lot better than the alternative.

Again, thanks for reading all this, and I hope it gives some readers some hope for their own pain management, as well as the sort of things to look out for, and the sort of medical practitioners to avoid like the bubonic plague!

If you’ve got any questions or comments, feel free to ask, I’ll be happy to explain anything that seems confusing, or if I’ve missed out anything. I’m happy to help out if I can!

– Cephas Q. Atheos

Life is pain, highness. Anyone who tells you different is selling something.”

Westley (Cary Elwes), in The Princess Bride

Pain is wonderfully Subjective!

If there’s one thing that chronic pain will do for you, it’ll focus your attention. While that’s usually seen as a Good Thing, it loses its lustre when you realise it’ll focus your attention whether you want it to or not, pretty much permanently. I’m lucky enough to have been able to use that tortured focus to learn about pain – objectively, as it were, instead of just experiencing it and whinging about how it’s ruined my life (which it has – as many hundreds of thousands of people around the world know far too well).

Now, I’m not saying I’m a medical specialist of any kind. Far from it – I’ve known too many medical pain specialists to want to be counted amongst their number, one or two individuals notwithstanding (Bruce Kinloch, we miss you!). Personally and professionally, based on the last twenty-three years of close interaction with these medical specialists, I can only consider most pain specialists the worst kind of medical dilletantes – who, despite their occasional declaration of compassion, have no comprehension of the second-to-second realities of chronic pain in their patients. So, despite these specialists’ best intellectual intentions, the incoherent torture of severe chronic pain is only exacerbated by calendar-driven delays of weeks or months (the apparent minimum time period defined by their Alma Maters, Colleges of Chirurgeons from the 17th Century), fiercely protected by middle-aged Personal Assistants who have more invested in their employer than their clients will ever benefit from.

They are, with one or two exceptions, Pain Specialists indeed – the worst practitioners ensure ongoing and unrelenting pain exquisitely well!

As always, the exceptions prove the rules, and the few genuinely compassionate and helpful Pain Specialists who do exist, and who aren’t guarded by unfeeling bureaucratic pencil-pushers, are well worth searching for. (For more reasons than I’ve just alluded to, as I’ll explain below).

 Mea Maxima Culpa

Over the past twenty-six-odd years of more or less interminable agony, I’ve not only wondered “Why me?”, but I’ve actually tried to find out why I’ve been afflicted with the male equivalent of a spinal childbirth every hour in those 26 years.

And I finally have some answers!

Let me just state, for the record, that I’m not just doing this for myself. While I started out on this quest for the most selfish and self-centred reasons, I’ve been exposed to a surprisingly varied array of persons in the same, or (more usually) far worse situations than my own, and it seems that what’s good for the goose may also be good for others in a similar position.

I’m no Albert Schweitzer, I’m more of a Barry Marshall – I saw a need for some actions, I requested medical approval, with appropriate medical evidence, and I was repeatedly (and arrogantly and nastily, in some cases) denied their support. I’m not sure why, but I suspect Turf Wars may be at the root, although I can understand why someone with thirty-odd years of complete medical training wouldn’t want to be upstaged by a non-medical person with only  a few years of reading scientific papers and a badly-scanned copy of the 39th edition of Gray’s Anatomy.

I guess what the medical individuals concerned didn’t realise was that for individuals with chronic pain, anything within reason is worth trying, if it will help reduce the never-ending agony. Actually, quite a few things outside the scope of reason are worth trying: my abortive suicide attempt didn’t work only because I didn’t realise the nature of barbiturate overdose. I suppose I’m grateful for that lack of knowledge. I know better now – but I also know that popping my clogs, apart from the terrible impact it will have on the people I love, is the fool’s answer. I now know enough to at least fight for the right to be heard.

They also didn’t realise that I’m something of a “Renaissance Man”, in the strictest sense of that term. I’m the 21st century equivalent of Robert Hooke, albeit with more modern concepts of intercellular chemistry, physics, and medicine, and I hardly ever drink elemental quicksilver.  I’m not saying that to bang my own drum or toot my own trumpet, it’s something I’ve come to realise over the past couple of years – I really do know a little bit about nearly everything, (in any case, far, far more than the vast majority of people); and it seems to me that the best way to expand my knowledge is to use myself as a guinea-pig. At least then we won’t lose anyone important!

The Options

There are two areas I wish to evaluate for myself in the very near future. These are hypnotism, and opiate antagonism.

There are actually many more alternatives and options I’d like to investigate, but I’m still in the process of bringing myself up to speed in neuroscience and neurophysiology, and I want to be sure my understanding of the processes involved is adequate. Although, I guess you can’t ever know too much!

I’m feeling Sleeeeepeeeee….

Now, I’m a bit sceptical about hypnotism generally, but only because it’s been touted and over-exposed by quacks and frauds for so long (well, ever since Mesmer himself announced his results).

Since my own chronic pain is quite specific in origin and intensity, I suspect that with the right practitioner, it might be possible to convince my unconscious self that the pain is more bearable, or (my hope) that it’s completely ignorable. These are the wrong terms to use, I know, but until I speak with a serious licensed practitioner, it’s the best I can explain.

My main concerns as far as this goes are :

  1. How susceptible am I to hypnotic induction?;
  2. How much of the pain can be ameliorated?; and
  3. How long will it last?

So those are my “Big Three” I need answered before I will start down that road.

Opiate Antagonism

Without going into the whys and wherefores just now (although I’ll be happy to explain the theory later on, if anyone’s interested), it’s quite possible that by mixing a small amount of opiate antagonist (naltrexone, naloxone, etc) in with the opiate infusion in my intrathecal pump, both my tolerance for, and response to, sufentanyl will be massively (more than 60%) decreased/increased respectively.

This isn’t airy-fairy guesswork, this is solidly backed by experiments dating back to 1985. David Meyer (amongst many dozens of other researchers) found that in the vast majority of rats with chronic constrictive pain injury (CCI), their tolerance to morphine in particular could be significantly reduced by admixing the morphine with a non-specific opiate antagonist. Not only that, but the effect seemed to be consistent over time, with minimal (almost undetectable) increase in either tolerance or potency after more than a week of trials!

He couldn’t quite believe the results, and as far as I’m able to tell, no-one else has satisfactorily explained that result. It’s been duplicated many times over, with many different species, but not homo sapiens, and never in vivo. It’s also been used to explain some other features of opiate receptor activity, but not explained per se. So here’s my opportunity!

I find it interesting that this particular group of experiments seems to have been reliable enough to be used as a possible explanation for later, related effects of opioid antagonists and agonists, but not reliable enough to be evaluated in human clinical trials. Since it involves the most insignificant and simple change to a standard treatment regime, it should be eminently testable, and easily proven or refuted!

But this treatment option in particular, was specifically (though not technically) poo-pooed by three different pain management specialists (including one of Australia’s leading pain physicians), but always with condescending tones and arbitrary and confusing non-sequiturs.

I was told the morphine would “crystallise in [my] intrathecal space and cause granulomas” (although it didn’t happen in any of the experiments), I was told that there could be no such effect since the amount of antagonist was far too insignificant to have any possible effect (cognitive dissonance, much?), and finally I was told that what worked in male Sprague-Dawley rats couldn’t possibly work in homo sapiens – at least, not in this homo sapiens.

But I beg to differ. It’s gotta be worth trying, I just have to find a pain specialist who will work with me to ensure appropriate support and aggressive examination of options, medical support, timing and measurement, and so on. Child’s play for me, but apparently an insurmountable obstacle for medical specialists. See what I mean about not wanting to be counted in their number? It would be embarrassing to me!

Who knows, maybe it will turn out that a combination of the two therapies will work. But it has to be tried, and not just for me – if it works for me, even partially, surely it warrants further investigation and more trials, especially since the test itself requires no additional resources, barriers, or ethical dilemmas!

At least I can make the attempt.

Which is more than I can hope for in Australian pain management, where I couldn’t even get the “top echelon” specialists to even consider testing a proven, decade-old shellfish toxin that’s worked well in the US for decades.

Why not? They didn’t want to divert funds from treating bedsores. They weren’t prepared to manage such a trial. It would take too long. The therapeutic window was too small. There have been isolated cases of attempted suicide (true, but then that’s also true for the current state of pain management here!). Oh, yeah, I forgot the best excuse for not trialling it over here :  it’s untested over here (I kid you not – they didn’t want to test it because it was untested! There’s that cognitive dissonance again!).

Fingers crossed, watch this space!

Thanks for reading.

Cephas Q Atheos.

Here goes nothing…

I think they call what I’m trying to do here “rebooting”. Basically, it’s the internet equivalent of the chalk duster, though perhaps more perfect and less messy.

So. This is my nth weblog attempt in as many years. My previous excursions into the huge, hollow amphitheatre of the web all turned into places I could squeeze the pus of my soul, but not much more. Perhaps the internet equivalent of a handkerchief (remember those?), and about as pleasant to see. (As were the strange, disjointed, and frightened people those weblogs attracted!)

Which was silly, in many ways, because I’m not an unpleasant person. I don’t have an unpleasant personality, and I detest unpleasant people. And yet, in the mirror of my weblogs, there I was: all horrible, frustrated, and nasty, with ne’er a good word for anyone or anything. There were very, very good reasons for that, but it’s not the whole picture, more a badly-drawn and unlikeable caricature. Who would’a thunk it, hey?

So let’s “reboot” this motherfucker, and see if I can leave a shadow of my real self where other, likeminded people can find and appreciate it. Who knows, it could be fun! And at least it’ll be pus-free.

OK, what’s with the dexter, median and sinister bits?

Yeah, it sounds all arty-farty and high-falutin’, but really it’s my attempt to duplicate the strange phenomenon in physics called “symmetry breaking”. The words “dexter” and “sinister”, with all their added freight, hark back to the days when knights of old clanked around what they thought was the whole world carrying huge, heavy, business cards called “shields”.

The funny thing about the way those business cards were described was that the “left” (sinister) and “right” (dexter, right?) were described from the bearer’s perspective, not the poor unfortunates who got to view the shields (usually just before they got stuck with a big sharp pointy bit of low-carbon steel). Think of it as handing out business cards with all the writing reversed. So a “bend sinister” was a bar that ran from your right upper point to your left lower point – which is all arse about when you really think about it.

What all that verbiage means is that I’m hoping to be able to offer a slightly flipped perspective on the various bits of mental flotsam, news items, and ideas I’ll be writing about. With a little luck, there may even be a tiny dash of humour, though that’s not the point – I’m always and will ever be a very funny person, but I’m not a funny writer, and I’m not going to try to be a comedian, because that will just annoy you and enervate me. And let’s face it, there are millions of funnier, smarter, cleverer, hunkier, and more thoughtful webloggers out there, and I’m not going to fash about trying to better them for the hell of it. I’ve got more important things on my mind.

Thank you, wanderer, for dropping by, and do please leave a comment or a g’day if you feel so inclined!

On with the show!