3 D – DAY

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Of course there are other things that can cause your Death besides Decrepitude and Disease. There’s always the possibility of the plane or more probable car crash, or falling off a ladder (at your age !), or getting done in by jihadists who have given the phrase “sticking your neck out” a whole new meaning. Whatever way it happens, it is, unlike so many other things, sure to happen. May as well look at it eyeball to eye-socket. Whether or not we eat, drink and be merry, tomorrow we die. You can bet your life on it.

Actually, I never think much about it, though more and more of my friends remind me of it by “passing away”. I don’t want or need a skull on my desk, like obsessed Saints of yore lest they forget. Que serà, serà. We know not the hour, and I don’t think I’d really want to. I’m not at all scared of it, but would much prefer not to have to face the decrepitude, the disease and the accidents that are the lot of most. A final painless heart or brain seizure during my sleep would be just what the Doctor of Theology (A.B.T.) ordered. I’ve been so lucky during my life that I may stay lucky as it ends. I just hope that no one spoils the fun at the cremation by God-talk. I will have heard and said enough about Him for the last eight decades to deserve, and give everyone else, a break, when the finis coronats the opus.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

QUESTIONING MIND-SETS

The following post was proposed , somewhat reluctantly, as a comment by one of our “silent readers”, on my “Collection of Comments on Comments”, one of Australia’s most eminent scientists, an Emeritus Professor of Macquarie University who prefers that people concentrate on what he says rather than on his credentials.  His “comment” deserves a stand-alone post.  He has opened a subject for discussion that goes far beyond the limited mental horizons, including mine, that most of us, believers and unbelievers both, reveal.  I will attach my comment to his comment on my comments on comments, hoping that it will be the first of many comments far more insightful than mine.

“You ask, Frank : ‘Whoever said we were just animals ?’  I do, for one.  We are happy to accept that other animals behave instinctively, but not humans.  Why not ?  Our brains work more or less the same way as, say, chimpanzees.  So, if they are instinctive, why not us ?  You say that you are not a programmed machine, but I suggest you really are, in as much as you have no control over your thoughts and actions.  After all, you cannot have a thought unless the neural functions in your brain responsible for that thought have actually occurred.  You cannot have the thought followed by the causes of the thought.  Moreover, theoretical physicists (Brian Greene and his ilk, whom I hold in great awe) assure us that spacetime exists in its entirety, and consequently events in the past always exist, as do events in the future.  Though we fondly imagine past, present and future as being separate, all is fixed in an existing spacetime continuum, and so we have no control over any of it.  We just follow what Paul Davies called our life-path (or something like that) through spacetime.

What is so bad about this idea anyway ?  You can still enjoy life for what it is, rather than a fantasy of it.  You cannot predict future events (or our delusions of them) and so they are just as interesting and exciting as if you deluded yourself into believing that you can control the future.  I am by no means depressed or confounded by the idea that I am an animal just like all the others, and am happy to take my place in the grand, though at times cruel and always indomitable process of life.

Of course that doesn’t mean that we don’t have feelings for each other, just as some other high primates do, nor that we haven’t evolved some sensible and caring attitudes for our welfare as close family and tribal groups.  All I am saying is that apparently everything we do, the enjoyable and the nasty, is inevitable in spacetime.”

LOS (T) ANGELES

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Few Americans, or even Californians, know the origin of the name of the City of the Angels.  Of San Francisco, perhaps, but not of L.A.  In case even some of the erudite readers of this Blog share that excusable ignorance, permit a former Friar to tell you that Spanish Franciscan missionaries founded their missions all along the Camino Real, and gave them Saints’ names, beginning with that of their founder, Francis of Assisi.  Santa Maria degli Angeli, the famous church in the Poverello’s home town, provided the Spanish “Los Angeles”.

No one – even in the Church – talks much today about Angels, become almost … lost angels.  They used to be a popular feature of daily prayers and litanies, and are still referred to in certain rites, notably funerals.  They have gone out of fashion, though we still have them at Christmas singing “Gloria in excelsis Deo”.  They have  recently made a remarkable comeback, in a most unexpected form, quite different from the effeminate, winged, long-robed, pasty-faced figures we admired on holy cards (ask your grandfather what they were) and as statues in the parish church and cemeteries.

Hollywood’s recent peplum, “Noah”, stars our own Russell Crowe and the wierdest Angels you ever saw.  When people think of Noah, they think of an Ark, not Angels.  The film broke new ground in featuring a bunch of extraordinary Angels called “Watchers”, giant, grotesque creatures made of rocks which you might expect in a movie like “Godzilla”.  They are described as “fallen angels”, but seem to be good guys, ready to help Noah build his boat and floating zoo with the wood provided by a forest which suddenly appears in the barren landscape out of nowhere (God’s on Noah’s side).  There is no reference to the apocryphal Book of Enoch where these Watchers are mentioned.  They are, of course, unknown in the canonical biblical narrative.

Why am I talking about these incredible, fictional, gigantic fallen angels which only a computer could bring to life on the screen ?  Because the Angels of traditional Catholic piety are just as incredible, fictional and unreal as their cinematic cousins.  It is astounding that anyone, including me, ever recited the “Angelus” as church-bells, like the Muslim call to prayer, rang out over Christendom every midday, repeating the Gospel text of the Archangel Gabriel’s “Annunciation” to Mary, the future virginal Mother of the Son of God.  It blows my mind to realize that I once believed I had a personal Guardian Angel, to whom, as a primary school child, I prayed every morning :

“Angel of God, my Guardian dear, To whom God’s love commits me here.  Ever this day be at my side, Hop on my bike and off we ride.”

I think I got the last line wrong.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

A COLLECTION OF COMMENTS ON COMMENTS

Yesterday’s multiple reactions to “Habeas Corpus” and the reasons for believing in Jesus’ Resurrection have given me the ambition of attempting, for brevity’s sake, to comment on all of them in one fell swoop.  But first a necessary preliminary remark :  I have, in several previous posts, raised the question about the pointlessness of Dialogues of the Deaf between confirmed atheists and non-atheists.  Televised debates between Richard Dawkins and Cardinal George Pell are the classic example.  Their only real value, apart from entertainment similar to that of the corrida or the gladiatorial arena, is to perhaps provide reasons for Believers on the Brink to reaffirm, or definitively renounce, their faith.  No confirmed believers are going to change their opinion, no matter what I say, any more than the comments of my mainly new readers – a sincere welcome to you all – which I have respectfully perused, have in any way shaken my convictions.  We have no hope of converting each other.  The Franciscan University video, presented in one of the comments (Mysterium Fidei, 10:32am), of a dialogue between three of its Professors and Robert Spencer, explicitly concludes with the regretted admission of the impossibility of genuine dialogue between Christianity and Islam.  Gung-ho atheists and Catholic apologists face, I fear, the same impossibility.

Mysterium Fidei (10:05am)  :   Pope John Paul 2 was no more an historian than I.  The Pontiff’s “apology” for the Crusades, quoted in the video, is motivated by the same reasons he had to recognize what I called our “past crimes”.  The question is particularly pertinent and topical on the very day Barack Obama launched his justification for attacking Islamic State.  More will undoubtedly be said about this new “Crusade” in the coming months.

Siena (7:28am)  :  I will leave Ahmet to respond to this attack on the Qu’ran as historically false.  But this second new reader raised the question of my own possible opinion about whether Jesus really existed; I have in other posts said that I have no serious reason to question the fact.  Which does nothing, of course, to corroborate claims of His supposed Resurrection or other “miracles”.

Jim (12:20am)  :  Jim believes that no Christian apology is needed for the Crusades.  Many Christian historians would agree with him (but keep in mind my earlier comment about the Crusades and Pope JP 2).  And Jim, I’m proud of the fact that as a kid I was in fact a “paper-boy”, one of the many details I did not include in the autobiographical chapters of my book.  (I also delivered ice, at  4:30 in the morning, to kitchen ice-chests in Kogarah, driving a horse-drawn wagon.  Fair dinkum !)

Mysterium Fidei (10:47am)  :  The fact that certain pious books written by believers are considered “classics” of French, Spanish and English literature has the same apologetic weight as the respect world-wide for the writings of Voltaire.  One day, this Blog . . .

Jim (4:21am)  :  Jim seems to think that for someone to possess a right, it has to have been given by somebody, e.g., the universal right to believe or not believe.  No one decreed that I have the right to urinate. But at the Marist Brothers’ school we attended together, Jim, I was on one memorable occasion refused that right, in spite of its imperious necessity of being recognized . . .

Mystrerium Fidei (9:47am)  :  1.  We have an ontological value beyond that of pigs.  Whoever said we were  “just animals” ?  Not me !  But like them, since neither they nor we have an immortal “soul”, we definitively cease to exist at death.  I never met a pig which could read this Blog.  Maybe like some humans, they just prefer not to.  2.  I am not a “programmed machine” and find a viable basis for justice and law in the intrinsic value of every human being.  Neither Francis nor Adolph had any need of a “moral law-giver” to tell them what was right and wrong in their treatment of fellow human beings.  Behavior is not right or wrong because it respects or violates the laws of a divine “ultimate authority” and “transcendental source”.  Human laws are made because rational people recognize, and demand respect for, their own and others’ rights.

Jim (4:40am)  :  Jim wants to “return to (his) central topic” :  the First Cause and his patented Six Steps.  He wants to avoid, even if we accept the existence of his “God”, the nasty examples this Blog offers of how silly and incredible religious belief and practice are.  “Ridenda Religio” is the point  –  not Five Proofs or even Six Steps.

Mysterium Fidei (10:54am)  :  Redemptorists in Parish Missions used to try to scare us into toeing the straight and narrow by saying that death could strike us at any time.  I always thought that Jesuits, like my Paris Professors in the Institut Catholique, were a cut above fire-and-brimstone preachers.  Do you seriously believe that the possibility of sudden death is news to us, that we need a reminder and that you need to put the fear of God into us ?  MF, this is not your most intelligent contribution (the others are … a cut above), but I am happy to have your join us on the Blog nonetheless.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO 

“HABEAS CORPUS”

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The legal expression takes its meaning from a statement that used to be addressed to jailers detaining a suspect arbitrarily, without stating the reason for the arrest or the nature of the accusation.  “You have the body”; you are obliged to free the accused, at least on bail, and allow him to stand before a judge.

But one can imagine a quite different use of the phrase.  It could be said of a tomb, any tomb, which indeed contains a body, or what remains of it, a skeleton.  Any tomb except one : that in which the crucified Christ was buried.  His tomb, wherever it may have been, was, according to the Gospels, found empty after three days.  “He is risen, as He promised !”  But what if the tomb of Jesus were not empty, what if His body were identified as having been buried, and stayed buried, these last two thousand years ? 

This is the premise of the plot of “The Body”, a gripping movie made fifteen years ago, starring Antonio Banderas and Olivia Williams.  The film is pure fiction, of course, but its scenario is quite credible : an Israeli archeologist discovers the tomb of a man manifestly crucified and crowned apparently with a crown of thorns (the fact supported by physical traces on the bones), in the year 32 A.D. (a pilatus, a Pontius Pilate coin is found nearby), and his corpse buried, strangely, in a rich man’s tomb, rather than burned as victims of crucifixion (a punishment reserved to the poor) always were.  The Vatican, unsurprisingly, is determined to discredit this preposterous claim which would, if validated, destroy Christianity, and therefore sends a devout Jesuit priest to the site in Jerusalem to … bury the rumor.  Naturally I will not reveal the story and especially its dénouement.  But it deserves a moment’s reflection by believers whose faith and religion are founded on the reality of the Resurrection of Christ.

It is true that no one has ever discovered the body of the crucified Christ.  Some historians would not be surprised by this because they doubt that the Man ever existed.  But Christians who find no reason to question His historical existence accept the central tenet of Christian faith, attested by the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, that Jesus who had died on the cross rose physically from the dead.

It is, as Paul found preaching in Athens, difficult to get people to swallow.  But it is also impossible to prove.  Even ignoring the New Testament’s discord in the Resurrection narratives, the narratives remain just that : stories put in writing decades after the supposed event of which they were not witnesses, by believers intent on getting others to believe that Jesus  was indeed the Messiah, the Savior of mankind, and since His Ascension forty days after Easter, alive and well and reigning gloriously in Heaven at the right hand of His Father.

See the movie.  It won’t convert you one way or the other, but it will challenge the credulity of many.

                                                          RIDENDA   RELIGIO       

WHY DINOSAURS ?

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I received an e-mail from THOM which he had no intention of sharing with the Blog’s Followers (now 34, readers who have asked to be sent all new posts) and other identified as well as unidentified readers.  But because it was written by Thom, it is by definition worth posting, which cannot be said of certain other comments I receive . . . I have not censored the last word in Thom’s letter, which I, as a mere theologian, would never dare address to an eminent engineer, though I suppose it is acceptable coming from one engineer to another.  If Jim, to whom it is addressed, cares to respond, I will not trash his response (so long as it is of reasonable length) as I have been doing systematically recently.  Here’s what Thom wrote :

“The recent discovery of the fossil remains of a 69-tonne dinosaur (“Dreadnought”) provides the opportunity to throw some  very, very, very small numbers at Jim.  I wonder what he  thinks the odds on such a creature developing from the Big Bang might be.  Almost as infinitesimal as the chance of life itself developing.  But guess what ?  It happened !  Jim might be hard pressed to produce any evidence in support of his thesis that this great creature, bigger than a commercial jet, and now extinct, is part of God’s grand plan.  But what’s the point of arguing with this moron ?”.

What I like about Thom’s insight is the ridiculing of the teleological argument that I have tried so often to demolish.  What possible purpose could there be in creating dinosaurs destined to become extinct, what possible purpose could there be in exoplanets, like Kepler 186 F for example (see my earlier post of August 2, 2014)  – and please don’t tell us we should just accept that “God” had a purpose we cannot understand.  Even if Jim’s Personal First Cause did create the world, it’s pretty hard to accept Christian anthropocentrism, to believe that somehow all this was meant just to have us marvel at the Creator’s infinite power.  The obvious purposelessness of creation is itself an indication that “God”, a Personal, Supreme Intelligence, does not exist in reality but only in the minds of believers.

The Milky Way is situated at the edge of a Supercluster of galaxies recently baptized “Laniakea”, Hawaian for “Immeasurable Heaven”.  And Jim thinks all this was done just to impress us !  Whatever about the word “moron”, “Engineer-Believer” is an . . . oxymoron.

                                                      RIDENDA   RELIGIO   

“PROVE THAT YOU ARE NOT A PROSTITUTE !”

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It is hard to believe, I must admit, but in French jurisprudence there is at least one case, in the 19th century (when brothels were legal and an official list of prostitutes was kept by the Mayor of every town, to verify the obligatory medical check-up), of a woman insisting that she had committed no infraction by refusing a check-up because she was not a prostitute.  “Prove it !”, they said.

The anecdote, I hope, is enough to silence once and for all the stupid challenge put to atheists to prove that God does not exist.  I thought I had definitively demolished this absurdity in my Reflection “Harry (Potter) and the Burden of Proof” (in my book “From Illusions to Illumination”, pp. 67-68), where Hermione is expected by Mr Lovegood to prove that the Resurrection Stone does not exist.  But some believers, themselves seriously in need of a medical, mental check-up, continue to ignore that the monkey is on their back, not ours.

                                                 RIDENDA   RELIGIO

  

THE G A P

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“The Gap”, at first blush, would be taken by Sydney-siders as a reference to the city’s site famous for shipwrecks and suicides.  This post refers neither to that notorious Australian Eastern seaboard aperture in its cliff-face, nor even – as might be expected in a blog about atheism – to the famous “God-of-the-gaps”, the God whose existence seems necessary to fill in the gaps in areas as yet unexplained by science.  The gap I am thinking of is that requiring a quantum leap by believers between the Intelligent Divine Creator whom they consider the only reasonable explanation of the complexity of the Universe and the God they worship in their different religions.  The thesis I propose is the following : Even if one accepted the necessity of the intervention of a supremely intelligent Being as the only possible cause of the complexities of creation, as opposed to a concurrence of circumstances which can only be qualified as chance occurrences, the various divinities which have become the object of the world’s religions and the cults surrounding them are too outrageously unbelievable to be identified with the supposed Architect of Creation.  There is something of a         Gap between them.

Non-atheists and especially Christian apologists somehow believe that if they present enough examples, preferably videos in living color, of how fantastically complex creation is, it’s a done deal : God – and, they naïvely claim, THEIR version of God – MUST exist.  Apologists have a broad choice of examples, but the most popular are the brain, the eye, DNA, birds’ wings and the cosmos.  No need for me to try to dazzle readers with mind-blowing details and statistics.  “Just imagine …” could precede each example, calculated to impress the target audience or readership with “proof” of the existence of a Super Intelligent Designer, who could, in view of the examples chosen, be nothing less than divine.  Both atheists and non-atheists can appreciate why this is so effective in reinforcing existing faith and even in winning new converts.  The likelihood of any other, non-personal, cause for this complexity is, for believers, mathematically excluded by a plethora of scientific statistics and the calculation of the infinitesimal chances of it being the result of . . . Chance.

So let’s accept for the moment that the apologist has established (if not proven) his point.  The brain, the eye, DNA, the birds’ wings and the billions of galaxies whirling away from each other, are the work of “God”, who exploded on to the scene, while remaining Himself invisible, some 13.8 billion years ago.  Now fast forward to a synagogue, a mosque or a church in your city.  All of them claim that this God-Creator is what they say He is.  There are some similarities in the beliefs of each of the monotheisms but the flagrant differences and contradictions surely give an objective observer reason to put their exclusive dogmatism into doubt.  They can’t all be right.  In my mind, they are in fact all wrong.

When one looks even superficially at the fantastic beliefs each of these religions has invented, at the bizarre, sometimes barbarous, rules they have imposed on their members, and on the crazy rituals they are expected to perform, one is entitled, in our rhetorical hypothesis which admits the existence of an Intelligent Designer, to say : “O.K., so God exists.  So what ?”  How do you get from there to here, from a Supreme Architect to a Divine Despot who drowns the people He created in a worldwide Deluge, to divinely sanctioned beheadings of innocent journalists, to worshipping wafers of bread supposed to be, in spite of appearances, the flesh of God’s Son ?  There is a blatant non-sequitur here.  The Gap is too much for me.  Keep your conviction about this supposed Creator, but don’t expect me to accept the nonsense you have invented in creating your ridiculous religions.

                                                   RIDENDA   RELIGIO        

“CREDO QUIA ABSURDUM (oops ! mea culpa !) I N E P T U M”

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I suppose Tertullian thought he was being clever, coining such an ironic expression of faith.  After all, atheists like me, especially one whose mantra is “Ridenda Religio”, have condemned and ridiculed religion precisely for the absurdity of its beliefs and claims.  To make absurdity itself a reason for believing (for example, in the Resurrection, “because it is impossible”, dixit Tertullian) is, to say the least provocative, but a sure way of grabbing attention.

St Augustine’s “Credo ut intelligam”  –  “I believe so that I may understand”  –  is a similar idea frequently used to establish (?) faith as a source, equally as valid as reason, for understanding.  Recent Popes have rejected the “quia absurdum” (in fact “ineptum”,  “incongruous”) as fideism, but adopted the “ut intelligam”.  But it is just as . . . absurd.  I can’t really comprehend that consecrated bread becomes Christic flesh, but I will understand if I believe it.  C’mon !  You’ve got to be kidding !  The pity is I know you’re not.

                                                  RIDENDA   RELIGIO   

IS IT A FLAT WORLD AFTER ALL ?

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I am sitting here on my deck, facing the Atlantic surf in South-West France, witnessing a Summer sunset, fascinated by the size of the ship on the horizon.  It must be one of those monsters, 12 stories high with 5000 people on board, heading towards Spain and ports further South.  Like the sun it will soon sink below the horizon.  Reminds me of an old Spike Jones’ classic : “As the Sun pulls away from the shore and our ship sinks slowly in the West, we approach the lovely island of Lulu, spelt backwards, “UL-UL”.  Don’t ask me why.  When you are approaching eighty, your mind does strange things.  (One reader has recently accused me, seriously, of insanity.  Sorry to disappoint you, Jim.)

But the cruise-ship really does seem to be ready to go over the edge (I nearly said “the brink” . . .).  One minute it’s there, and while you’re mixing another Bloody Mary, it just disappears.  We know so much more than our ancestors (they couldn’t mix a B.M. if they tried).

The subject  “God and Science” still draws the crowds and still provides substantial income to speakers happy to defend both sides of the question.  It took believers centuries to shake off their biblical certitudes about the earth, the sky, the planets, the stars – and especially our own star, the Sun, which does NOT, they finally had to admit, rotate around the earth.  You have to admire the mental and rhetorical gymnastics the Church had to go through to accommodate irrefutable scientific evidence which it once denied.  I’m glad I don’t have to bother any more.  Anyone for an ocean cruise, or maybe a Bloody Mary ?

                                                              RIDENDA   RELIGIO    

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