Facing Doubt: A Review

I know that the Adventist faith community is far from perfect. But God is putting up with it – and so should we. The final paragraph of my friend Reinder Bruinsma’s latest book is by far my favourite. By writing this book, Facing Doubt: A Book for Adventist Believers ‘On the Margins,’ Bruinsma has done the Adventist church and many thousands of Adventists world-wide a great service.

Bruinsma shared a copy with me, both in Dutch and English, and I read the English copy quickly and with much interest. The book is well-written and reads easily. Bruinsma has written this book for the people in the church who place themselves on the margins and who seriously doubt if they should or even want to remain in the church. From personal experience, I know that this target audience is large and growing by the day. It is commendable that Bruinsma has taken their plight to heart and through this book attempts to minister to these believers on the margins. Admittedly, Bruinsma is not straying too far from his own field of experience, as he writes ‘I expect this project will also be good for my own soul! For I myself am as much the target for this book’ (p 18).

Indeed, in the introductory chapter Bruinsma shares that he himself has these doubts, but that he wants to keep his faith and he wants to stay in his church. He then – humbly admitting that he does not have all the answers or any ‘instant remedies’ (p 17) – spends the rest of the book putting doubt in perspective and offering some reasons and ways for believers ‘to persevere in their attempts to believe’ (p 18).

Part 1: Questions, Uncertainties, Doubts After the introductory chapter, the book consists of two parts each containing four chapters. The second part the most interesting for the topic at hand, in the first part the stage is set. In ‘Christianity in crisis’ Bruinsma analyses the exodus from church, that is taking place in the West. Not just the Adventist church. Bruinsma sketches how history, touching on postmodernism and the reformation, has led to this point.

‘Recent Trends in Adventism’ focusses on the current state of the Adventist Church. In Bruinsma’s eyes, it very clear that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Bruinsma highlights some trends in contemporary Adventism, always placing them in their historical context, that are worrying for him and many others. Bruinsma truly believes the Adventist church is in a crisis, and that this crisis is not about one or two issues. Fortunately, as history shows us, change is possible.

The topic of evil and theodicy is next in ‘Is There a God, Really?’. The suffering and evil in the world has been part of the New Atheist debate on the existence of God, and Bruinsma tackles this difficult topic head on. Giving a good overview of possible answers, he ultimately admits that ‘I realize that for most people the why-question will not be solved by any academic debate’ (p 69). Concluding that the best answer is probably not rational. The best answer to this non-intellectual doubt is given in a later chapter ‘The Leap of Faith.’ Bruinsma then moves on to other intellectuals doubts that many have, creation and miracles are at the top of that list.

By this point Bruinsma has piled doubt upon doubt, and if the reader was not in doubt before reading the book, she probably is now. Bruinsma rightfully asks ‘What do we do with all this doubt?’ (p 80). Before getting to the meat of the matter and giving some suggested solutions to doubt, Bruinsma leads his readers once more unto the breach.

‘Can I Still Believe This?’ discusses specific intellectual doubts one might have with Adventism. First the role of the Fundamentals is treated, and then various theological points pass the review: the trinity, the nature of Christ, the Sanctuary, 1844, end-time prophecies and Ellen White. Bruinsma discusses these in reasonable depth and raises the right questions. The last topic is a strange one, life style issues such as ‘food, jewelry, recreation, cohabitation and sex’ (p 104). Bruinsma does not discuss this topic at all just concluding ‘At this point I simply want to mention this area of concern. And let me just say that, in all honesty, doubts in this category may (at least to some extent and in some cases) reflect a desire to justify one’s own behavior and are often not really a thoroughly considered, theologically rooted doubt’ (p 104). This statement is, in my view, I bit blunt and falls rather short as compared with the generally excellent discussion. It’s a pity, as this is the last topic in the chapter and leaves the reader on a low note.

Part 2: Facing Doubt and Finding Answers In the second part, Bruinsma gives the meat of his message, and his answers to doubt and his reasons for staying in a church. In ‘The Leap of Faith’ Bruinsma points out you are meant to have doubts, and that doubt is part of faith. He then suggests a surprisingly simple solution: take a leap of faith. Just go for it. If you are doubting whether you should or even could believe, why not give it a go and see where you end up. This may sound simplistic, and in theory it might be, but the discussion of this option is neither simplistic nor superficial. Ultimately, Bruinsma understands faith to be gift that God will give to those who try to believe.

In ‘Why We Must Remain in Church’ Bruinsma describes the second part of the problem of being on the margins: do you still go to a church? Emphasising that we often talk about the Church, meaning some kind of big organisational structure, in reality all anyone ever is is a member of a local church in a local city or town, nothing more, nothing less. Now admittedly, local churches can be not so great, but you can always try to find one that is better. Bruinsma discusses how a local community and one’s personal faith interact, and the essentiality of belonging to growing in faith. Each believer needs the church, and the church needs each believer.

Having dealt with doubt and staying in or going to church, Bruinsma moves on to the modernist meat: ‘What Exactly Must I Believe?’ Or better yet, if I don’t believe X, am I still a true Adventist. In a chapter that was perfect for including a reference to badventist, Bruinsma shows the traditional adventist aversion to doctrine and how that changed. He argues that not every Fundamental Belief is fundamental, and that being Adventist is not defined by one’s adherence to a set of beliefs. Bruinsma admits that he himself is not a ‘real’ Adventist, and points out that whether or not he agrees with each minutia of the twenty-eight has absolutely no implications for his membership in his local church. Ultimately ‘I am the one who must determine […] whether I have sufficient affinity with the Adventist interpretation of the Christian faith and with the Adventist faith community, to refer to myself as a “genuine” Adventist’ (p 169). In other words, there is no need to be chased out the church because you have some troubles with specific parts of the Fundamental Beliefs. You are the one to decide if you identify with the Adventist heritage sufficiently to remain part of the church.

Finally, in ‘Dealing With Our Doubts’, Bruinsma gives some useful advice to living an Adventist life of doubt. He suggests, to my great satisfaction, giving up studying the Bible and to start reading it. He argues that we need to focus on the message of the Bible, especially when reading hard to accept texts, not on the details. He reminds us that we need to keep thinking and using common sense. He points out that while many people in the church abuse Ellen White’s writings, that does not disqualify their usefulness. He reemphasises how important prayer is, and gives suggestions to start it again. And he shows the reader how she can take a journey of doubting and questioning without being overcome.

In the end Bruinsma shares his personal list of fundamentals, as he’s shared before on his blog. An insightful list to show the reader what freedoms she may take in dealing with the twenty-eight. He finishes with the best part: the quote that I put at the beginning of this review. ‘I know that the Adventist faith community is far from perfect. But God is putting up with it – and so should we’ (p 191).

Some conclusions All in all, Bruinsma has done an excellent job with this book. Naturally there are some minor typo’s, but for a non-native speaker surprisingly few strange turns of phrase. The prose reads easily, and Bruinsma makes the reader feel that she is included in a journey together with him. The – for such a book rather extensive footnotes – are enlightening and useful for interested readers looking for more answers; or maybe more doubts. And, of course the most important part, Bruinsma’s answers to and suggestions for dealing with doubt are both tried and tested and innovative.

My only true problem with the book, is one that is not Bruinsma’s fault at all. As I read the book, I didn’t feel that I was the audience. Not because I lack doubt, not because I haven’t thought of leaving the church, but because my worldview and thus my reason for doubts are different. Ultimately, I would estimate that this book answers more questions for Baby Boomer and Generation X readers, than for younger ones. Having said that, given the chance to go back in time, I’d still read the book. It enriched my faith and my commitment to my church and I truly believe it will do the same for thousands of others.

Tom de Bruin is a lecturer in New Testament Studies at Newbold College.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7602

There is a profound difference between doubt and proven error. there is no denomination without both. Thus the issue is to find a setting in which Grace and assurance are daily bread. One will not find it in the SouthernUnion The West Coast offers some relief. The Presbyterian church asks three question. 1. are you a sinner?
2… Do you believe in Christ as your personal savior?
3. will you be submissive to the Elders of the Church.

Betty and I were admitted by answering the first two. As the pastor was fore warned he muffed the third. We now enjoy a new young pastor who leads without compelling. Grace does abound, as I am sure it does in individual Seventh Day Adventist Churches, but not here or within a day’s journey. t Z

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So Little in Common
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Tom de Bruin:
1.What do Reinder Bruinsma and Ted Wilson have in common apart from going to Church on Sabbath? Do they both have their own ‘DIY’ Adventism? Is that OK?

2.You are at Newbold. What do you think Reinder Bruinsma, who stresses the local church, would say about an English white Adventist in the UK finding a meaningful Adventist church community when the only choices are Ghanaian, Zimbabwian, West Indian, misc African, Filipino. There are white Adventists but they are Roumanian and Moldovan with their own fundamentalist twist on Adventism. What does the future hold for the Adventist witness in the UK? Should white English people actually join the Adventist church? How will they be nurtured? Is it just their bad luck?Or is Reinder Bruinsma open to the idea of ‘other churches’ are ok? This is a very practical problem if you are white, Adventist and live in the UK. Best wishes, Edgar

PS I apologize if my questions are ‘Baby Boomer’ or ‘Generation X’ and not considered relevant for today.

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I ordered Reinder Bruinsma’s book from Amazon, and was glad that I did.

I recommend it for any contemporary Adventist, those with doubt and those without any doubt.

Frankly, I am PROUD to be Dutch ( my grandfather was from the Netherlands).
Bruinsma is articulate and eloquent and persuasive, more particularly since he is not writing in his mother tongue-- but then, most Dutch are splendidly multi-lingual.

I can see why he chose not to use an Adventist publishing house. He is graphically transparent in his discussion of problems with Adventism and its doctrines.

My main issue of doubt has been EGW’s TOXIC Great Controversy dogma.

Her whole book is an anthology of atrocities, emphasizing Satan’s EVIL, hopefully to persuade the “universe” that God is good.

She portrays a God, so obsessed and consumed with His eventual “vindication” that He uses mankind as his “Guinea pigs” in His grand “experiment” to overcome Satan.

Six thousand years (and counting ) of abysmal accumulated atrocities, and an avalanche of anguish, do not seem to have persuaded God’s entourage of extra-terrestrials – EGW’s “universe”-- to vote for God nor to indict Satan.

This, despite EGW enlisting them as the jurors/deciders/arbitrators in this dispute. These extra-terrestrials must have the mental capacity of primitive primates, as depicted in the movie PLANET OF THE APES, not to have reached a definite denouement nor an adequate arbitration, eons ago.

That we are held hostage to incompetent, inept, space aliens is terrifying.

What is even more nightmarish, is if these aliens have the “street smarts” to perceive mankind’s misery, but despite this, they remain in total equanimity, uncaring, uncompassionate, totally lacking in concern or commiseration. Surely then, they are complicit with Satan, if they do not clamor for God to end the carnage?

Our fate is in the hands of extra-terrestrials either incompetent, or uncaring, or both-- not a happy prospect!

EGW’s scenario is as BIZARRE as a STAR WARS movie with space aliens playing the major role. It invites derisive ridicule and does not “hold water”. The only possible escape from this absurdity, is the excuse that she plagiarized this idea, or that it was penned for her, by her entourage of “literary assistants”.

That said, I see myself at age eighty, transitioning to Methodism-- a simple straight forward GOSPEL, unencumbered with the toxic “baggage” of Adventism.

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Bruinsma for President !!!-

see, we in Austria are on a strict conservative line since decades . One opinion leader - long ago confronted with the view that a maiority of SDAs here did not join his reactionary path - answerde : "Well, then we should disfelloswship them all ! "

And the European valuegeneisis study places Austria in the upper right corner together wit Portugal, Bulgaria, and Romania - in questions of lifestyle and theology. ( That means :Those youths who were addressed to answer the questionaires !) .

But just be the ordained elder of a church hosting also the Rumanian congregation : Them demanding black suits and dresses for the real earnest believers, them attempting to have a wood cartving in the hosts church, depicting the vine and the branch and the fruit - John 15 : 1., 2. .- being removed because one imagines a devils face in the roots also depicted - and their leader giving interviews to some local weekly about segregation and non - integration - the true remant - while the whole city is under threat of the growing number of non - integrated Muslims - -

Just stand in front of a cSabbath congregation as looking on it from the pulpit, see all the little children and the toddlers : What a future will they have, what solutions doe we present for the teens in the back pews ?
Maranatha !"

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Adventism, by it’s very DNA, has consistently produced this kind of fanatical legalism, conspiratorial, paranoic thinking, and divisive attitudes towards other Christian groups. The very idea of being the remnant church of bible prophecy, based on adherence to a point of law and not grace is the launching point. Add the claim of having the only true end time gospel, seconded by an in house prophet, who is also an identifying mark of the organization’s exceptionalism, and you have all the earmarks of an unhealthy and even toxic religious system.

What Gerhard describes is almost a logical flowering of the roots of the system. What Bruinsma argues is almost a revisionist view of what Adventism at its base really is. One must emphasize the good, and go into denial by explaining away the inherent crazy making problems within the entire system. It seems to be the only way for sane people to survive intact within its borders.

Thanks…

Frank

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So what Bruinsma is saying: If I entertain doubts concering EGW’s prohibition against tea, coffee, vinegar, wine, spicy foods, pickles, mustard, flesh meats, and eating two meals a day with nothing in-between—These issues should create no “doubts” about God’s prophet. The problem is not prohibitions but my own efforts to justify my morning cup of coffee as harmless when The Prophet says it is “sin.” The problem must lie with me, not The Prophet. As the results my faith is free from doubt as I attempt to follow EGW’s inspired diet plan.

No vinegar, please, because of its infalamating effect on the stomach ! (ph 2.00 in stomach, ph 6 added by some sprincles of vinegar

Gerhard Dr Svrcek Seilerss: Not so fast, pass me the vinegar.

February 10, 2016 – American Chemical Society
Summary: Vinegar is the perfect ingredient for making tangy sauces and dressings. Now, researchers report that the popular liquid could also help fight ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease that research suggests is related to the gut microbiome. They found that vinegar suppressed inflammation-inducing proteins while improving the gut’s bacterial makeup in mice.

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“I know that the Adventist faith community is far from perfect. But God is putting up with it – and so should we.”

This is a most troubling final paragraph of Brunisma’s book. How can he be assured of God’s thoughts, and is God also putting up with all the other world religions? What signs does he have to be so certain that God has blessed this church any more than the thousand of other Christian religions?. Does God especially bless one church or does he bless all those who truly seek Him?

Christ never established a church; how soon we forget. It was man who began religious divisions, soon after he left this earth, with the first separation of Christians from Judaism. Did not God bless the Jewish people and give them laws and rules? Was God there when Christians determined their creed? Was He there when Luther broke away from the one church and Protestantism was born?

What if our doubts lead us to part with Adventism? Luther’s doubts led him out of Catholicism, the only Christian church at that time. Today there are thousands of Christian churches which accept all who wish to become part of God’s family; accepting Him as their Lord and Savior, following the principles He left us. But none of the FB’s that are required of all who wish to become part of the Adventist family. The more restrictive a group, the more purity of behaviors and beliefs are demanded. How many have been added to the simple admission: “Believe on Christ crucified, and your Savior.”

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Luther never wanted to leave the Catholic Church, he wanted to reform it. He was excommunicated.

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In the Anglican and Episcopalian traditions, DOUBT is an integral part of becoming a member
of the Denomination. Reasoning is required, and along with reasoning has to come Questioning.
Questioning in a Community setting, Reasoning in a Community setting. No question is termed
Trivial. No answers can be assumed to be the last answer, or the total answer.
It is OK to want to expand one’s knowledge and understanding. And this is allowed, and actually
presumed to be WHY one wants to become Episcopalian.
BAPTISM-- 1. Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
2. Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God? 3. Do
you turn to Jesus Christ and accept Him as your Savior? 4. Do you put your whole trust in His Grace and Love? 5. Do you promise to follow and obey Him as your Lord?
BAPTISMAL COVENANT-- The person is asked if they believe in the various parts [read out loud] of the
Nicene Creed. Then asked 1. Will you continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship in the breaking
of bread, and in the prayers? 2. Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent
and return to the Lord? 3. Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? 4. Will
you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? 5. Will you strive for justice and
peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
Then, the Rite of Baptism is performed [ I have seen both, wetting of the head, full immersion in an outside pool. Reported that a number of years ago, immersion in a nearby lake.]
There is a small bowl of water near the entrance, so when leaving Service, one can Renew one’s Vows by dipping fingers in the water and touching one’s forehead. Many do this. I have done this myself as a Renewal activity.
NOTE-- When one studies the Nicene Creed, it contains ALL the SDA Doctrines in it.
The Nicene Creed DOES NOT limit one’s Learning, one’s Questioning, one’s Exploration for Answers. It Allows for “Fill in the Blanks” of discovery. It allows for NEW TRUTH, it allows for a deeper understanding
of TRUTH, both More, or Changes in some way based on new information.

Not promoting changing to Episcopalian. Just demonstrating the differences with the Seventh day Adventist Thought System, Belief System, and Control of Members System when it comes to Divining WHO is to be considered IN, WHO is to be considered OUT, and WHO needs Counseling regarding
their Membership Status. Or, IF they are allowed on the platform in front, allowed to be elected to a
church office, assist with the music program.

OFF TOPIC-- Pastor Burinsma, on his list of topics on his Blog pages, has a really great piece regarding TMI [no NOT too much information, but maybe so by pastor burinsma] Total Membership Involvement.
He brings the ISSUE that perhaps Total Membership Involvement may not be wanted, and may not be ALLOWED. Great Read!!!

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I haven’t read the book, but I think this is an important contribution to a conversation about religious faith and doubt. And I believe this is not only relevant for Adventism, but also for other faith communities. Postmodernism, whatever that cultural phenomenon is, influences us all, irrespective of our willingness, or not, to lend ear to the cultural changes taking place in our global world.

However, I think it is important to distinguish between institutional religion and religious faith/spiritulity. The way I see it, based on recent research in the five Nordic countries (probably the most secularized countries on the globe) is that decline in church attendance and religious services does not, necessarily, mean decline in religious faith/spirituality. My claim is therefore that what Bruinsma defines as a crisis for Adventism, is primarily a crisis for the church as a corporation/institution, and not adventist faith per see.

Postmoderns, SDA included, are not necessarily becoming less religious, but what we are seeing is rather a postmodern version of the Reformation’s denial of coercive church authority, and opressive theologies. I think there is solid (recent) research in support of my contention.

It is also interesting that Bruinsma, as I understand him, makes an attempt to rehabilitate doubt as a positive resource, stressing that religous faith will always be in (Kierkegaardian) tension. Anthropologist Mathijs Pelkmans of London School of Ecenomics has written an interesting book on doubt – Ethnographies of Doubt (2013). For Pelkmans, doubt is an undervalued resource in relation to religious faith. Nevertheless, faith communities with fundamentalist tendencies to ‘Absolute Truth’ find doubt threatening. He claims:

Religious and secular convictions can have powerful effects, but their foundations are often suprisingly fragile. In fact, the firmer the endorsement of ideas, the weaker the basis of these notions may be…………. And intense ideological movements can only retain their fervour by actively denying ambiguity.

On the question «Can I Still Believe This?», mye suggestion is to decouple it from the all-pervasive dichotomy of faith vs. science. We need to take a new perspective. Religious faith have for too long been held hostage to such religious and scientific fundamentalisms, that are at their core heavily influenced by Cartesian foundationalism.

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For me, the issue of doubt has gone far beyond tea-coffe/two meals a day level. It’s not even about the torturing of Scripture in order to come up with all the “distinctive” beliefs of Adventism. It’s obvious, the scenario of Adventist teaching came first, followed by textual cherry picking proofs. The doubts are more along the lines of - why is God more likely to answer prayer when 100 people pray, as opposed to one prayer in the closet; or, why can we expect a a miraculous parking spot when innocent kids are kidnapped and disappear? Some Adventist concerns listed in its voluminous library are incredibly superficial and controlling. When silly rules rule, faith has a hard time growing.

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I am looking forward to reading Dr. Bruinsma’s book, and I expect to find myself there.

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It was the same situation in UK 40 years ago. Remember New Gallery Church. Good questions Edgar. Thanks

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Who appointed Cliff Goldstein as the arbiter of whether or not one is a Seventh-day Adventist? Who appointed him the guardian at the gates of Adventism. The best I can say for his seeming exclusiveness is that it is narrow-minded and unfortunate.

His attitude can’t help but remind me of the command, “Judge not…” Has he not read the command to let the wheat and tares grow together? I wish he would prayerfully read the book of Matthew again. I find Cliff’s attitude so unlike the model of Jesus Christ. You know what Jesus said - “Forbid them not…”

There are many “types” of Adventists. And I believe God loves them all equally because they are all His children.

I’m an Adventist member in good standing! Who says? God and my local church. Cliff has no determining role over that, and I find it unfortunately egotistical of him to assume such a role, or even suggest that he has it. Cliff would not “let me in” because I’m a “progressive” Adventist who doesn’t read EGW anymore, etc. But I am and choose to remain a Seventh-day Adventist - doubts and all.

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or…you could just believe what jesus said…that nothing you eat will make you unclean. It’s a complete non issue.

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Many aspects of the “doubt conundrum” cannot be answered within the framework of a church with a repertoire of required beliefs. There is also bound up with this required repertoire of faith for the membership in “good and regular standing” a fear that the corporate structure, and therefore the viable existence, of the SDA church could be threatened. The genius move of Adventism in requiring tithe observance with the basic 10% payable to the local has been financing not only salaries etc but also the great work the church has been, and is still doing, in Education and Health around the world. A surplus , or to be more accurate , a subvention is often used for philanthropic activities. The spread of doubt is infectious and the church hierarchy is naturally very concerned, since it could translate into less tithe-paying members and a shrinking of the education and health structures et al, of the church. At the same time as new knowledge pours in by the day, it is inevitable that it will not long suffice.at all to call for adherence to former unquestioning beliefs in Much of the written assertions of the multifarious Bible books. Christian theologians /and DSS scholars have written commentaries on the real reason for Jesus’ Crucifixion, for example, as his performing the releasing , ceremony for Simon Magus who led a demonstration, in Nov 32 A.D.,against Pilate’s actions in demanding funds from the sacred treasury at the Jerusalem Temple to spend on massive Public Works. Roman soldiers were killed and Simon and the other organisers( Judas Iscariot/Theudas Barrabas)fled. Agrippa had Magus arrested and sentenced to spiritual death, confinement in a mausoleum in grave clothes and reduction in status to that of a leper. If no priest lifted this sentence in three days the occupant would be left to starve to death. By raising Magus Jesus was portrayed as an enemy of Rome by the Pharisees who hated him for his teachings(especially,all men are equal in the sight of God etc), Perhaps" knowledge" trumps doubt.However, there is still lingering doubt among many believers that what the scholars have found is the TRUE story. Well, I say!!!