PITY IS NOT PRETTY

Tags

, , , ,

“I pity you, you poor bastard !”  Even out of context, that phrase reeks of contempt, scorn and a complex of superiority.  One could imagine it being said with a misguided intention to express sympathy, accompanied by a certain helplessness and fatalism.  But more often than not, pity is … pitiful, and meant to belittle, degrade and dominate.  Asking for pity is perhaps even worse, a pathetic expression of total dependence on the whim of the cruel and powerful.  You are about to be beheaded by a masked terrorist.  You have nothing to offer, nothing to negotiate.  Your last resort is to beg – you are already on your knees – that your life be spared.  You try to appeal to whatever humanity, not to say milk of human kindness, he has still left in him.  You sacrifice your dignity – and you grovel.  Understandable but dehumanizing.  Not everybody can be a hero.

How often do believers reflect on the image of the God they have imagined when they implore Him to pity them ?  “Kyrie eleison !” : “Lord, have mercy !”.  Whether in Greek or in English, what they are implying is : “Tyrant that you are, you want your pound of flesh”.  What they are saying, with the others in the congregation, is : “We know that we deserve to be punished, but could you, just this once, see your way clear to giving us a break ?”  The Catholic Mass and Christian prayers and hymns are full of this expression of belief in a God who expects His terrified children to grovel.  They have it coming to them, they admit that they deserve the full impact of His righteous wrath, but because they are on their knees, begging forgiveness, crying their eyes out, promising to walk the straight and narrow, He may be prepared to consider going easy on them.  Or maybe they get a little help from their friends, the Saints, and especially His Mother, the Mediatrix of All Graces, Our Lady of Perpetual Succor (no puns please), to whom they have prayed all their lives : “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour or our death.  Amen.”

“RIDENDA  RELIGIO” is not appropriate here; there is nothing to laugh at  –  although it is ridiculous to believe in, and beg for the remission of sins and the annuling of eternal punishment from, this non-existent Monster whose praises they sing as a God of Mercy !  “Faut-il pleurer, faut-il en rire ?”  Jean Ferrat’s song suggests a choice which is inapplicable here : to laugh or to cry.  If the sentiment were not so despicable, I would pity the poor bastards.

DELENDA   RELIGIO

LEARNING TO SEE : THE “GOD CONSORTIUM”

Tags

, , , ,

If you consult the Web under “Deus Consortium”, you may find an ad for a “Deus ex Machina” tee-shirt, a gift at only $39.99.  It has a nifty motorcycle on it with “Deus” painted on the gas-tank and a rider who looks like a World War 1 pilot.  But that is not the point of the site.  “Deus Consortium” is an extraordinary project of France’s top astrophysicists responsible within the C.N.R.S. (Centre Nationale de Recherche Scientifique) for the “Dark Energy Universe Simulation”.  The clever acronym comes to life in a 9-minute video in which the project’s Director, Jean-Michel Alimi, explains that the galaxies are not really rushing away from each other but that the whole fabric of the Universe is dilating like a balloon, thereby pushing apart the planets, galaxies, amases and superamases, including our own “Laniakea” (see the earlier post in this Blog, September 6, 2014, “Why Dinosaurs ?”).  We are beginning to be able to see what our Universe really looks like.

We look up at the sky, as I do every evening from my deck overlooking the Atlantic, and we marvel at the planets and stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way.  We know that those specks of light are other worlds.  We know also that we are looking into the past : the stars we see may or may not exist any more (at least the Moon and the planets do).  Light travels at 300,000 kms/sec, so in a “light-year” it covers about 10,000,000,000,000, kilometers.  We have no idea what figures like 2.5 light-years, the distance separating our Milky Way from its nearest neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy, really mean.  But when we are told that our superamas Laniakea is 500,000,000 light-years from one end to the other, we have another drink and forget about it.  But that is reality, the world as it really is.  We are learning at last to see.

The acronym “Deus” is no doubt a cynical agnostic/atheist’s joke.  Somewhat like the “God particle”, the famous Higgs Boson, originally that “goddamn particle” everyone was looking for until verification of the theory, which Brout, Englert and Higgs proposed in 1964, proved recently that it really existed.  Whatever about that, the point I want to underline is that clearly”God” has nothing to do with the pointless creation and the mindless expansion of the Mad, Mad, Mad World in which you and I are such insignificant, infinitesimal accidents.  I fail to … see  how anyone in his/her right mind can believe ( I weigh my words) that this “immesurable heaven” (the meaning of the Hawaian word “Laniakea”) had any “Intelligent Designer” or any purpose, or that its “Architect” is ready to take time out from managing the Cosmos to listen to our prayers to help us find a job or our keys, or cure our cancer or head-cold.

Just a few hundred years ago in the 13,800,000,000 years since the Big Bang and the emergence of human life a mere 200,000 years ago, we began to discover the microscopic and macroscopic worlds, the existence of which we never even suspected.  Now scientists, at least, are learning to see.  If only the rest of us could have our cataracts removed and understand that this hitherto unimaginable, invisible world establishes without a doubt that we have been kidding ourselves with our God-talk, Godology and goddam nonsense about God’s loving purpose for us, about Heaven and life after death and all the other silly beliefs, rules and rituals of our ridiculous religions.

RIDENDA,   DELENDA   RELIGIO 

THE POWERS OF A POPE

Tags

, , , , , ,

The Supreme Pontiff, a Jesuit, and I, a former Franciscan, have a lot in common.  We have the same name, we are exactly the same age, we have the same number of brothers and sisters, and we even drive the same car, a Ford Focus, though his is blue and mine is one of the fifty shades of grey.  He abandoned his real name, as I did : he became Francis, and that is the name I had to relinquish when I became Brother Leon (now I’m back to being, like the Pope, Frank).  We were both ordained priests, both did post-graduate studies in Theology, both taught the subject.  But we have a few differences besides our Religious Order and the color of our otherwise identical cars.  He is, no doubt, a little less overweight than I, but I speak better English.  Biggest difference though is that he is Pope Frank the First, and that’s what I should have been.  A further minor detail : His Holiness  is a non-atheist, and I am an apostate former priest become a militant atheist whose Blog is read by probably less than a hundred readers, while he writes encyclicals for over a billion Catholics “urbi et orbi”.

I think a lot about the job I surely would have had, had I “kept the faith”.  (You remember the old saw : “Keep the faith; I don’t need it”.)  I think in particular about the powers a Pope possesses from the moment of his coronation (or, less regally, investiture).  Unless I missed something, I believe he has four unique powers, over and beyond the powers I had, and still have, myself as a “priest forever” : to forgive sin, change bread into Jesus and bless rosary beads.  The Pope has the power to appoint Cardinals who thereby become his possible successor (he shares with all Bishops the power to ordain priests and other Bishops); the power to define dogma infallibly; the power to canonize Saints and declare officially, though it is somewhat hard to prove, that they are in Heaven; and, finally, a power he keeps discreetly under his white skull-cap, but which his predecessors did not hesitate to use abundantly and profitably to crusade against heretics and infidels and to finance the rebuilding of Saint Peter’s.  No one talks about indulgences much any more, but they are still on the books and at the ready any time a Pope wants to reward people for going to war to kill the enemies of the Church, or for going on pilgrimage or for reciting certain prayers or making significant donations, by getting God to release Poor Souls in Purgatory, or at least to shorten their sojourn in the torture chambers of this temporary Hell.

But there are a lot of things the Pope can’t do.  He can’t pick the winners at the track; infallibility has its conditions and limits.  He can’t get people out of Hell, no matter how much Il Capo di Tutti Capi left to the Church.  And he can’t work miracles, at least not till he dies.  Like you and I, he has to count on Our Lady for that, as did his Polish predecessor who damn near croaked from an assassin’s bullet but was saved because it happened on an anniversary of one of her apparitions in Fatima.

I wonder what sort of a Pope I would have made.  I have a feeling that like the Hermit-Pope Celestine V in the 13th century, famous for confirming the right of a Pope to abdicate – as did Benedict XVI – I would have been forced into early retirement or bumped off the way some nasty cynics say Pope John Paul I was.  But it must give Pope Francis quite a thrill to be able to canonize his predecessors, thereby creating a precedent for his successor (“Saint Francis of Argentina” is inevitable).  But I wonder if he is tempted to declare infallibly that the Sacrament of Marriage may be received as well as witnessed by Catholic priests of the Roman Rite (“received” because the priest does not administer this sacrament; the couple administers it to each other), or that it is OK for Catholics to use condoms to limit the spread of Aids and abortions and too large families.  I know he never will.  But if ever he calls me in for a chat about the outrageous stuff I publish in this Blog, I wouldn’t mind asking him.  He is about the nicest, most tolerant guy you could ever hope to meet, which of course is the really big difference between us.

RIDENDA  RELIGIO

A BOTB MUST – READ

Tags

, , ,

Many of today’s writers are mediocre, some are quite good, a few are great. I know of only two contemporary writers who are geniuses (and self-effacing at that !). The other one is Garrison Keillor.

Americans have known Gary for forty years. The lucky ones got to know him from his Sunday night radio show, where the world’s greatest storyteller since Mark Twain had them rolling all over the living-room listening to his Lake Wobegon stories. The rest of us learned about Gary through his books and tapes. I cannot recommend him highly enough.

Religion is a fairly frequent backdrop in his stories. Some of them have to be the most effective, as well as the funniest and the most gentle send-up of religion you will ever hear or read. Just two examples from his “Reader” should be enough to convince you. I cannot violate copyright and I will not spoil the pleasure of your experiencing Gary directly, by quoting them at length here. But you simply must read “Gospel Birds” and his new, enlarged version of the “Pontoon” yarn, both featured in “The Keillor Reader” (Viking, Penguin Group, N.Y., 2014).

Even future Nobel Prize winners like me will one day be forgotten. But Gary Keillor will keep people laughing as long as they remember, as he says, that “there is a lot of human nature in everybody”, and, as I say, that religion really is ridiculous.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

SEXPERTS IN THE VATICAN

Tags

, , , ,

I once heard a priest defend himself against the argument that as a celibate he had no qualifications and, above all, no experience to justify his lecturing people on marriage and sexual behavior. He actually answered : “A surgeon does not need to have had cancer to treat the disease”. I leave the reader to draw her/his own conclusions …

The recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome is making news all over the world because of the “breakthrough”, first in recognizing that “homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community”, and, secondly, in asking the question : “Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities ?” The inevitable conservative reaction both in the Synod and around the world will keep the “breakthrough” in the news for some time to come. But TIME (October 27, 2014 – the mag is always a week ahead of itself), after dismissing any “evidence of a revolution”, wound up its report with a marvellous, unexpected, tongue-in-cheek punch-line, worth quoting here : “The unusual interest in a gathering of clerics, however, points to a notable shift : people actually care about what a group of bishops is thinking. For many, that itself may be a revolution.” Amen.

(TIME’s opinion is confirmed as I write this on October 19 : the final edition of the text, reported this morning on the radio, has been watered down to be politically correct so as not to offend conservatives, including … Islamic countries, dixit a German Cardinal !! Readers of this Blog need no reminder that in such countries homosexuality is a capital offense. Diplomacy, pretending to be wisdom, is sometimes a scandalous substitute for courage.)

For ages, critics and cynics have spelled out the irony of a bunch of not only unmarried but presumably sexually inexperienced and inactive celibates dictating laws on intercourse, birth control, abortion and homosexuality. Nothing new under the dome of St Peter’s. But Believers on the Brink, at least, need to ask themselves why they continue to cling to the Vatican’s beliefs and rules and rituals that are just as absurd as the pretension of virginal Doctors of Godology (as I was until the age of 31) to say ANYTHING about sex.

I don’t consult my local doctor about managing my bank-account or repairing the plumbing in my house. Priests and Bishops should recognize that they have “nothing to declare” about sex – or even about God. They have no personal experience of either.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

CHRIST REDEEMER

Tags

, , , ,

“They’ve got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil.” The song does not add that they also have an awful lot of religion down there too. South American Catholicism has always been in competition with local traditional pagan religions. The current new competitor is North American evangelical Protestantism. But during my recent week in Rio, I was constantly reminded that the Christian religion in two of its three expressions has really only one rival in Brazil : soccer, the devotees of which play the game seriously all day every day on Copacabana beach and on playing fields around the city, even at midnight !

The 38-meter high statue of Cristo Redentor with outstretched arms, towering at 710 meters over the vibrant city of ten million, is recognized around the world. It is Christ crucified without the cross. Everyone knows its name, whether or not they understand the concept of redemption, and whether or not they believe what the statue represents : God’s Son who offered Himself in sacrifice to pay off the debt incurred by the Original Sin of our First Parents as well as our own (well, yours anyway : I am one of those Pharisees “without sin” …).

It is hard to understand why this central, awful doctrine of Christianity does not trouble believers. I guess the dominant attitude is one of gratitude that Jesus took the rap for us, rather than of wondering why this “debt” demanded the torture and death of a human victim, and to whom the “debt” was being paid. Sermons on the “Paschal Lamb” refer unashamedly to the animal sacrifices of Judaism, and even though Jews today would find such abominations disgusting, Christians seem to overlook the even more frightful idea that God demanded not just a pound of flesh but the excruciating execution of His own Son.

The massive concrete statue is there to remind us that God so loved the world that He watched the Son He had abandoned suffer and die so that we would not go to Hell. A curious way of revealing His love, and a constant cause for wondering about divine “justice” and blood-lust (He would have loved the corrida), and for pitying people who could believe in such a ghastly God.

DELENDA RELIGIO

WHY BOTHER ?

When it’s really up to you to choose to do something, you can always choose to do nothing. I’m sure you will be impressed and grateful for that profound insight and precious contribution to your education. But the fact is that very often we choose to do something, without asking ourselves first “Why bother ?” The action we choose may be more trouble than it’s worth. Its outcome may be doomed from the start. It may be just a pain in the neck which we would be better off choosing to avoid. If it is something that really must be done, often we’d be wiser to leave it to someone else with more time and talent than ourselves.

Where, you ask, am I going with all this ? Well, today I heard a moderate, I would even say, in a quasi-oxymoron, a liberal, Islamic theologian, suggest that we (it’s none of my business; he meant “they”) must “re-interpret” the Qur’an. I immediately said to myself : “Why bother ?”

Long before the third, copycat, monotheism came on to the scene, Jewish scholars and Christian theologians had already spent centuries trying to make sense of, if not to explain away, the more embarrassing, outrageous, immoral, inhuman, cruel events, teachings and injunctions of their sacred texts. It never occurred to them to ask themselves my question. They HAD to bother. That was their job.

You can find long lists of such texts on the net, or even a few Old Testament examples in my book (“From Illusions to Illumination”), page 75, “concerning, for example, the approval of selling your daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7), that working on the Sabbath deserves death (Exodus 35:2) or that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean (Leviticus 11:7-8) or that one must not plant two different crops in the same field (Leviticus 19:19) or that the whole town should be assembled to stone the offenders (Leviticus 24:10-16), or that people who sleep with their in-laws should be burnt to death (Leviticus 20:14)”.

I could have added a pearl or four from the New Testament, quoting the words of the Gentle Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God Himself :

“Do not suppose that my mission on earth is to spread peace. My mission is to spread, not peace, but division. I have come to set a man at odds with his father, a daughter with her mother, a daughter-in-law with her mother-in-law : in short, to make a man’s enemies those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother, son or daughter, more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:34-37)

“Just as weeds are collected and burned, so will it be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will dispatch his angels to collect from his kingdom all who draw others to apostasy, and all evildoers. The angels will hurl them into the fiery furnace where they will wail and grind their teeth.” (Matthew 13:40-42)

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels of heaven, he will sit upon his royal throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. Then he will separate them into two groups, as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. The sheep he will place on his right hand, the goats on his left … Then he will say to those on his left : ‘Out of my sight, you condemned, into that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels !”. (Matthew 25:31-33, 41)

“A man who does not live in me is like a withered, rejected branch, picked up to be thrown in the fire and burnt.” (John 15:6)

The Qur’an is a treasure-trove of similar texts that challenge the ingenuity of the most erudite Islamic scholars. A few examples from my book (pages 75-76) :

“Combat on the path to God those who fight against you … Kill them wherever you find them. If they fight you, kill them; such is the retribution of the unbelievers” (2:190-191).

“Your wives are for you a field to plough” (2:223).

“If the people of the Book believed, it would be better for them. Among them there are believers, but the majority of them are perverse” (3:110).

“God has fulfilled His promise towards you, when, with His permission, you wipe out your enemies” (3:152).

“Unbelievers are your declared enemies” (4:101).

The reason they all bother is obvious. No one would waste his time trying to explain how Harry Potter and his Quidditch team zoomed through the air on broom-sticks – or propose some esoteric symbolic meaning behind their magical aerial feat. It’s fun, it’s fiction, and we all know it. The problem with the Torah, the New Testament and the Qur’an is that they are all supposed to be the Word of God. It is a given, therefore, that they express the truth. Even if much of what they say seems incredible and irrational, some people think they simply must try to discover the real (acceptable) meaning of the sacred text. Whence the arcane art and profession of biblical and Koranic exegesis.

There are three principal arguments behind the belief that the holy books are inspired by God : 1. They were written by holy men, or better yet, they contain the very words of a man who was clearly a spokesman of God (!); 2. The events they record and the claims they make are supposedly backed by miracles witnessed by many (!!); 3. A bunch of learned, holy men got together and after careful examination of the texts, sometimes comparing and contrasting them with spurious, “apocryphal” competitors, they were solemnly declared to be of authentic divine origin. Q.E.D. (!!!).

There is obviously no point in analyzing these “proofs”, and believers themselves don’t … bother. They just accept what they have been told, no matter how much it stretches and challenges their credulity. The rest of us know that the scholars need not have bothered interpreting or re-interpreting the troublesome texts. Some believers simply reject interpretation altogether and perform the mental gymnastic of taking it all at face value. It’s “In the Book”, so it must be true. Period. Liberals in all the monotheistic faiths scorn the blind ignorance behind such fundamentalist literalism. But they themselves, before they try to talk their way out of the obvious meaning of the more outrageous texts, should ask themselves our question : “Why bother ?”. Instead of arguing about the interpretation of books supposedly revealing the Word of a God invented by primitives, they would be better off doing what I did : stop wasting their time as exegetes bending themselves backwards to make sense of nonsense, and learn an honest trade, rather than continuing to blindly lead the blind into blind folly. In a word, get themselves a life.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

SUNNIS , SHI’ITES ? “LET ALLAH SORT IT OUT !” (Sarah Palin)

Tags

, , , ,

To state the obvious, I am not a geopolitician. I am not even a politician. I am a former priest and Professor of Theology, a retired Director in a French multinational and a co-founder of its corporate University, become a militant atheist whose Blog is dedicated to sharing insights into the absurdity and dangers of religious credulity. I try to keep up with what’s going on in the world, in particular with events related to religious faith and practice. My sources are authors of recognized expertise, scientists, philosophers, politologues and even some journalists like TIME’s Michael Crowley, whose June 30 article, “Irak’s Eternal War” is the source of much of the information presented here. The opinions expressed are my own.

Some of us have trouble remembering the differences between the two fratricidal factions within Islam, the Sunnis and the Shi’ites. The conflict dates from the very beginnings of Islam in the 7th century. Westerners, non-Muslims, rarely understand or remember the difference between them. Sarah Palin and the rest of us are in good company : at the end of World War 1, as he helped draw up the victors’ imposed new map of the Middle East, Winston Churchill wrote : “Sunnis, Shi’ites : I always get mixed up between these two.”

Here’s what I’ve understood – a mini-primer for amateur geopoliticians – about this internal, murderous, ancient conflict between the two sects, that goes beyond our own historical Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants, which we hope, non obstante the recent history of Ireland, are a thing of the past.

It all began with a fierce dispute about who should succeed the Prophet when he died in 632 A.D. Sunnis wanted a new leadership by consensus; the Shi’ites wanted leadership to stay within the Prophet’s family and to be given to his son-in-law Ali and his descendants. These were the “Followers of Ali” – the “Shiat Ali” – who ever since, though today only 10% of the world population of 1.6 billion, have been mortal enemies of the Sunnis, who are determined to restore the original Caliphate with its elected leader.

The Sunnis, 90% of Muslims, are dominant in Indonesia, in Saudi Arabia, in Pakistan (which has both the second largest Sunni population and the second largest Shi’ite), in Egypt, Jordan and what is now called Sunnistan, the growing territory straddling Iraq and Syria, conquered by the Sunni radical extremists who call themselves Daech or ISIS or the Islamic State. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni but ruled as dictator over the Shi’ite majority in Iraq, which is today under Shi’ite rule, like neighboring, nuclear-equipped, Iran and Bashar Assad’s Syria. Al Qaeda is, of course, like ISIS its rival, Sunni. The 35 million Kurds who dream of, and are ready to fight for, their former independence, are Sunnis determined to turn the conflict with Baghdad to their own advantage. The reason that Shi’ites have power disproportionate with the 10% of Muslims they represent, is their control of Iran – which has the world’s largest Shi’ite population as well as enormous wealth in the form of black gold – and their concentration around oil-rich areas.

That thumbnail summary may leave some incapable of distinguishing a Peshmerga from a Peche-Melba, a Kurdish militia-man from the Dame Nellie dessert. But I hope it is enough to help begin to understand that no one, and notably no American-led military action, is going to resolve the ancient hatred motivating the imperialism and terrorism of ISIS. The U.S. spent nearly $1,000,000,000,000 and lost 4,500 lives in its liberation of Iraq after deposing Saddam Hussein. The superpower is conscious that its present “restrained” intervention against ISIS is taking place in the context of a potential nuclear confrontation between the Sunnis of Pakistan and the Shi’ites of Iran. Already Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s cost more than a million lives.

This Blog’s mantra is “RIDENDA”, even “DELENDA RELIGIO” : religion deserves and needs to be ridiculed and if possible destroyed. As long as we witness, and become more and more threatened and terrorized by, radical Islam, which, not content with “M.A.D.” (“Mutually Assured Destruction”) of its coreligionists who dispute how leadership of their common religion should be determined, sees us as infidels deserving death, we cannot but continue to encourage the enlightenment of all believers and the elimination of all religions.

RIDENDA, DELENDA RELIGIO

IT’S JUST A BUSINESS !

Tags

, , , , , ,

I love France which has been my home for forty of my last fifty years. My nom-de-plume is “Frank O’Phile” : a fair dinkum Aussie whose francophilia led him to become a French citizen. I think I know France better than most of my former compatriots; I even published an article in the Sydney Morning Herald (March 13, 1998) entitled “Let’s Be Frank About France”, in which I sang my adopted country’s praises. But France has its faults. For example, I have an idea that revolutionary France invented strikes. In 1964, when I arrived in Rome having traveled from Sydney, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok and about to complete the last leg of my journey to Paris, I discovered that I could not. Paris’ airport, Orly, was, as usual, on strike.

After Air France’s pilots’ strike last week, this week France’s pharmacies closed and pharmacists staged a massive, and for them rare, strike. The reason, of course, was the threat to their livelihood : supermarkets, as in the States, may put them out of business if they are allowed to sell off-the-shelf pharmaceutical products. The chemists claim to be consultants, not just shop-keepers. Their slogan : “Your health is not a business.”

Of course it is. Surgeons, doctors, nurses, paramedics and pharmacists all make a living from our need for medical and health care. They may be good, generous, dedicated, competent professionals, but they are not the Red Cross. They may have had the purest of motives in choosing their profession, but they expect, rightly, to be paid for their services. Today in France pharmacists face potential commercial competition. Many want a piece of the pie; you don’t need a diploma to sell aspirin.

Some readers may at this point be tempted to rush off to post a comment on the pros and cons in a debate concerning what is only an analogy, as they did recently with my example of the Sainte Chapelle as a “house of glass”, my metaphor for the Church, as a glass-house in which people are advised not to throw stones. In the present context, strikes and pharmacies are NOT the point. The point is, as you thought when you began reading this post : Is the Church “just a business” ?

Please don’t expect me to come out with all the tired broadsides against the Church, accused of being a mere means of making money. The Church, in a way, IS a Red Cross, a spiritual philanthropy. It is dedicated to helping people find the true meaning of their lives, to spreading Jesus’ revelation of the depth of God’s love for all mankind, to encouraging people to love one another, to lead lives built on the Beatitudes, to prepare themselves for Heaven, the reward of the just. The Church is called, by its very nature and mission, to be an exemplar of the brotherly love it preaches, an institution committed to sharing with the world the Good News, the Joy and Hope of the Gospel, and to incarnate the love of God by feeding the hungry, healing the sick, educating the ignorant, reinforcing faith in Jesus’ redemption, sustaining the courage of believers in face of adversity and guiding them along the Way of Christ to eternal life.

I think that is a fair mission-statement of the Church’s raison d’être. To provide a living for its clergy, volunteers all, it must give them a modest salary and take care of their material needs. The Church is financed by the generosity and charity of its own members. St Vincent de Paul, Mother Teresa and the Church today could not care for the poor, the sick and the dying without the income provided by the collections and contributions of its Faithful. But the Church is not a business. It is not a multinational dedicated to enriching its investors. It is, to use the cliché, a “charity”, not just a non-profit organization but a philanthropic association more like “Doctors without Borders” than a business like a local pharmacy or a pharmaceutical giant. It is true, unfortunately, that some of its “Pastors”, “Overseers” (the etymological meaning of “Bishops”), and even its Supreme Pontiff, the “Holy Father”, “the Servant of the Servants of God”, sometimes use their too generous income and acquired personal wealth to live lives of lavish luxury. But these are the exceptions. It is grossly unjust to condemn the Catholic Church as though it were essentially an institution dedicated to milking the poor and conning the credulous into giving its ministers a free ride.

“His dictis” – all this having been said – the real problem with the Church is its usually sincere and well-intentioned exploitation of the credulous. The Faithful are paying for the perpetuation of comforting (and sometimes frightening) myths, and the exploiting of their ignorance, fears and wishful thinking. In spite of the good faith and generous, selfless dedication of the majority of its clergy, it continues to promote groundless, irrational, silly beliefs, silly rules and silly rituals. Some critics, like Christopher Hitchens, go so far as to say that as an institution of religion, it “poisons everything”. True believers naturally will never accept this, and are happy to contribute to the only “business” they recognize in the Church : saving immortal souls. The problem is that indestructible “souls”, supposed to survive death, do not exist, any more than the God who they believe created them and the imagined eternal life He is said to have promised them. Believe it if you like. Pay for the Propagation of the Faith if you wish. It makes no sense to me.

P.S. Congratulations on persevering to the very end of this post, instead of just harrumphing at the title and dismissing the article, before even reading it, as another vicious, hate-filled attack on the Church. But just between you and me and the gate-post – apart from the final paragraph – you DID expect me to trot out the usual stuff, n’est-ce pas ? Judging a book by its cover or an article by its title is called “prejudice”. We all have prejudices, atheists and non-atheists alike. Recognizing them can make discussion of controversial subjects a little more rational.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

RELIGION : OVINE OBEDIENCE

Tags

, , , , ,

I would imagine that very few of my readers would ever have taken a vow of obedience, as I did. Franciscans, like all members of Catholic Religious Orders, take three vows : poverty, chastity and obedience. I took these vows just after turning 17, in an Order founded by a Saint who defined obedience in terms of a … corpse, because a cadaver, a stiff, has no choice, no will of its own, no possibility of discussing or negotiating or refusing to do what anyone wants to do with it. I gave up the right to own anything, and the right to sexual relationships even in marriage. But I also gave up my own will, my own power to choose to do … anything. Others decided everything for me. As in childhood, I would always be told what to do.

Such a renunciation must sound unreal, unimaginable even. But the fact is I lived under such a vow for fourteen years, until the day I made my Declaration of Independence : “Not thy will, but mine, be done.” At the age of 31, I reclaimed the freedom that was the birth-right I had relinquished. I, the Other Frank (not Sinatra), declared – though I did not sing – “I’ll do it myyyyy way !”.

Few people take a vow of obedience. But we all learn to obey in the first years of our life. We learn to cope with the challenges of life by obeying our parents and teachers. We learn that there are people with authority over us; we learn the rules we must obey and the punishment we can expect if we don’t. We learn to respect law-makers and especially law-enforcers. We learn to live and work under the authority of people we recognize as our “superiors”. In civil life, in the work-place, in the military, they give us orders and we obey. In the Church we learn that serious disobedience of its rules, and those it claims come from God, will be punished in the eternal fires of Hell. Religion is built on the foundation of obedience, of submission. “Unless you become as little children”, Jesus said, “you cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven”. “Submission” is the very meaning of the word … “Islam”.

It took me years to recognize the obvious truth that becoming an adult means assuming one’s autonomy and personal responsibilities, thinking for oneself, deciding freely rather than obeying blindly. We accept the need for, and the necessary respect of, the laws that govern society. But it is childish or at least immature to allow others to dictate what we must believe, what religious rules we must follow, and the ways we should worship the gods whom religions have invented.

The Church rightly calls its clergy “pastors”, shepherds, and the people expected to obey them, a “flock”, a flock of sheep. I am an ex-Franciscan priest, a “Shepherd in the Mist”, an apostate become a militant atheist. Some believers call me “a black sheep”. Their fleeces, of course, are lily-white; they are not black sheep, but they are sheep nonetheless. I am not.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 39 other followers