BEYOND BELIEF

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Vegans and all vegetarians know that we are better off not eating meat.  Some of us carnivores put such people in the category of Wet-blankets, Wowsers and Puritans, who seem to suggest that everything we like is bad for us.  Single Malts, barbecued T-bones and Ben and Jerry’s are among the gastronomical and gustative delights from which we are expected to abstain.  Recently I discovered that even toast (seriously !) is bad for you.  Before long we’ll be reduced to eating insects.

We’re already there.  Firms like Chirp-Farms, BittyFoods and TinyFarms are following FAO recommendations by producing a flour made from … crickets, and energy-bars composed of insects.  There is even a company called “Beyond Meat” which produces “meat” based on vegetable protein.

The message is that we don’t need meat but we do need what its substitutes can provide, whatever about the challenge of making them palatable.  There are perfectly good economic and ecological reasons behind all this, including the exorbitant expense of breeding and feeding animals destined to become our food, as well as certain dietary and health advantages in avoiding consumption of animal products.

If only we could wean people off belief and find a substitute for its addictive attraction in people who can’t face life thinking that death is its definitive end.  Life surely is not meant to be a perpetual Lent : no alcohol (or so little, there’s no point in imbibing), no fatty foods, no desserts, no jam, no butter, on forbidden toast.  By the same logic we can’t be expected to give up the comfort, the reassurance, the hopes, the “certitudes” of pie (WITH salt AND sugar) in the sky when we die.  That is the challenge militant atheists like me face.  No one wants to listen to a kill-joy nutritionist, and even less to some loony inviting them to live a life without the fuel which is faith.  We have “Beyond Meat”.  Is there any way we can package a substitute, “Beyond Belief” ?

I believe we can .  But it won’t be everybody’s cuppa.  This Blog tries to invite Believers on the Brink to burn that security-blanket, to accept that the comforting illusions and mirages of belief are a debilitating drug that may enable us to stifle our anguish, helplessness and fear of death, but remain pipe-dreams.  I try to make atheism attractive as a liberation, but many will continue to prefer the equivalent of Big Macs and MacFlurries, 75% sugar breakfast cereals and, as Toad found in “Wind in the Willows”, “very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in it in great golden drops, like honey from the honeycomb”.  Tough competition.  I’ve been off alcohol for four straight years and an atheist for forty.  But I’m no vegan, just a pagan.  And I like my toast.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

 

ADDICTIONS AND CONVICTIONS

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If you have never experienced the initial, relaxing euphoria that follows two shots of a mature, exquisite Single Malt, you have missed one of the essential pleasures of life, which, for some addicts at least, give it meaning.   If you don’t know how to stop after just the two, you know what it is like to be an alcoholic.

If you have never known the quasi-ecstatic joy of a genuine religious experience, you cannot understand why some believers have an unshakeable faith.  If you yourself have had such an experience, you may find it difficult to understand why anyone would refuse to believe, or worse, abandon their faith.

There is an unbridgeable gap between believing and not believing.  On both sides there are people so convinced of their stance on religious faith, that they find the unfortunates on the other side incomprehensible if not demented.  For those over there it is obvious that not only does religion make sense to them, but that life and death would be meaningless without it.  Similarly, people on my side of the gap wonder why the others cannot see how unfounded and ridiculous religion is.

Then there are those not too sure of their belief, or of their unbelief.  These are the Believers on the Brink, whom both believers and unbelievers would like to convert.  I once wasted my time as a former believer become an atheist, trying to get convinced Catholics to recognize the illusions I used to have and they still had.  I realize now the pointlessness if not the impossibility of such a project.  Full-blown alcoholics can be led to go on the wagon; gung-ho Christians can be brought to recognize the blind folly of their blind faith.  But on both sides of the Great Divide, proselytizers would be advised to concentrate their efforts where there is the best chance of success.  If dyed-in-the-wool believers bother to browze this blog and find that it creates some minor tremors in their supposedly rock-solid convictions, so much the better.  But that would be a collateral benefit, a consummation devoutly to be wished certainly, but icing on the cake.  Believers who have already discovered reasons to doubt and disbelieve much of the nonsense, will, I hope, soon reject the whole ball of wax.  Meantime I will continue to use my blog as a blowtorch.

                                               RIDENDA   RELIGIO

 

 

 

“GIMME THAT OLE-TIME RELIGION !”

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Francesco, Papa simpatico.  He really seems to be a nice guy, this Jesuit, almost Franciscan, breath of fresh air in the Vatican.  He makes the job of his minders and P.R. staff a breeze.  He’s doing everything right.  They didn’t have to invent, and they don’t have to polish, his image : he brought it with him, along with his simple pectoral cross, his sensible, non-designer black shoes and his blue Ford Focus (mine is metal-grey; we drive the same car, are the same age, and are both as Frank as they come).  It’s hard to fault this living saint on whom many Catholics are pinning their hopes for a surge in popularity not just of the Papacy but of the clergy and the Church as a whole.  The Faithful are confident that he will be as tough on unworthy conduct as Jesus was in whipping the money-lenders out of the Temple.  There will be no more shady deals or money-laundering in the Bank of the Holy Spirit, Bishops of bling will be made to toe the line and the cover-up and simple transfer of pedophiliac priests will be a thing of the past.

But don’t expect this popular Pope to pussyfoot with the innovations if not laxity of a certain Liberalism.  Conservatives will be delighted to see him reestablish a Tridentine Church rather than promote a Vatican 2 one.  He will not denounce, denigrate or deny any of the most recent Council’s official teaching, but he will restore the old-time Catholicism we knew before his about-to-be-canonized predecessor, John XXIII, let Vatican 2′s fresh air fill the Church, blowing away, some would say, much of traditional piety in the pews and preaching in the pulpit.  Instance his March 21 annual vigil for victims of organized crime, when he begged members of the Mafia to change their lives : “Repent”, he said; “there’s still time to not end up in Hell”.  Pure 1950′s Catholicism, the stuff of the old Redemptorist Parish Missions, without the fire and brimstone.  It’s the sort of thing many frustrated Catholics have been waiting to hear.  And perhaps the sort of thing that will get our Believers on the Brink to make for the exit, before the Church brings back the Golden Book of Indulgences, holy cards, perpetual novenas and the rest of the nonsense they have long abandoned.  “Carpe diem”, my friends.  There’s still time to not end up the way we were.  Easter would be a good time to let the light in.

                                          RIDENDA   RELIGIO                                               

MIRACLES FOR SALE

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In 1517 Father (Doctor) Martin Luther launched his Protest against, and Reformation of, the Catholic Church, by attacking the sale of indulgences.  Five centuries later, another priest, an almost-Doctor of Theology (A.B.T.), who like Luther left his religious Order and the Catholic priesthood, launched another Protest with the intention not of reforming but of ridiculing the same Church, which approves not only indulgences but the sale of miracles.  Luther posted his condemnation on the door of Wittenberg’s cathedral.  Mine is posted here on this blog.

I recently received, among my junk-mail, a four-page letter accompanied by a colored brochure to which was glued a medal – and a suggestion that if I wanted to benefit from a miracle, I had only to send a check, of as little as ten euros or whatever I thought my miracle was worth.  (There must be people who actually do send money.  What have they got to lose ?  Blaise Pascal would agree that it’s worth the wager …).

The following excerpts may reveal, to the embarrassment of many sincere Catholics, just how pathetic is the exploitation of religious credulity and superstition in promoting the “Miraculous Medal”.  I hope they will draw the obvious conclusions.

The outfit – or the fanatic – behind the scam begins its/his long letter with a quotation from a lady in 1830 who, though she had died some 2000 years earlier, told a French nun that the medal she (Mary, the Mother of Jesus, a.k.a. the “Immaculate Conception”) had herself designed (!) would bring “great graces to everyone who wore it around his/her neck” and that “graces will be abundant for everyone who wears it with confidence”.  She went on to warn that “the whole world will be thrown into turmoil by misfortunes of every kind”, but added consolingly that “I will be there with you”.  The Church in 1836 declared these “apparitions” – better described as mystico-psychotic ravings – to be “genuine” (see my book “From Illusions to Illumination”, p.167). 

The promoter of the campaign says that he needs exactly 109,763 euros to be able to distribute some 120,000 medals like the one I was lucky enough to receive without even asking for it.  He insists that this is “an enterprise of lay-Catholics engaged in the apostolate in conformity with the prescriptions of Canon Law and ecclesiastical discipline”.  Naturally I sent him a hefty donation.

P.S.   I am ashamed to admit that as an adolescent at Marist Brothers School in Kogarah, N.S.W., I actually wore the medal day and night around my neck.  The miracle is I became an atheist.

                                             RIDENDA   RELIGIO

 

 

” ELEMENTARY, MY DEAR CRICK ! “

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Boy meets girl.  One thing leads to another.  That’s the way it often is in science.  Sometimes, however, by sheer good fortune, it happens that a scientist trying to invent a new glue, finds that his product just won’t stick things together permanently : the Post-It is born !  Or another stumbles on penicillin.  But more often than not, scientific advances depend on a logical process of deduction.  If x produces y, then we can deduce that y can produce z.  It turns out that it does.  Hence the genetics-shaking discovery of DNA and its double helix.  Thank you, Mr Watson.  Thank you, Mr Crick.

This blog recently waited patiently for a reader to produce his promised theological deductions from the premise which he and Aristotle call the First Cause.  If we accept – a very big “if” – that there was a Superior Intelligence behind the existence of the Universe, then, he said, he could deduce, in six easy steps, the veracity of current Catholic doctrine (for example, the defined “infallible” dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption).  I gave up waiting for Godot and the famous Six Steps when their revelation became the subject of a kind of blackmail, in the form of previously unannounced conditions.  It turns out that I have procured the promised precious prize without accepting any conditions or terms of blackmail.  Here they are, verbatim :

“Once it is accepted that an intelligence greater-than-human intelligence is involved in creation of the universe and humanity, the sequence of some half dozen ensuing logical D E D U C T I O N S leads to orthodox Catholicism, independent of any shortcomings of its human representatives.

1.   There is a greater intelligence than human intelligence involved with the universe.

2.   That intelligence has, necessarily, the attributes which orthodox Catholic teaching attributes to God.

3.   Jesus briefly took on humanity and claimed to be one with God and has backed up His claim in a multitude of ways.

4.   Jesus established a Church, personally assured of His infallible guidance  through the ages, to uphold the truth.

5.   The Catholic Church is the one and only church that fulfills that promise.

I did say some half a dozen, but that appears superfluous, as 5 seems sufficient.”

Any similarity between these Six become Five Steps and the six I predicted (“The Six Steps”, March 15, 2014)  - six of one, half a dozen, or even five, of the other - is (need it be underlined ?) not a feat of fantastic foresight, but the result of my having once shared the credulity which produced them.  It is however remarkable that they were the hyper-Holmesian deductions of an engineer-scientist, blinded by his need to believe.

P.S.   That this should be posted on April Fool’s Day is, of course, like the Big Bang which occurred against admittedly astronomical odds, a pure fluke  . . .

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

THE ORIGIN OF CATHOLIC DOGMA

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1.   A long, long time ago, some primitive mid-Eastern story-tellers borrowed or invented tales full of drama, sex, violence, catastrophes, heroes and … miracles to enlighten their ignorant, illiterate peasant audiences.  Besides the exciting adventures of their comic-book characters like Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham and super-heroes like Moses, they threw in some rules and regulations about what’s right and wrong.  Later some scribes, having learned to write, and as anonymous as the authors of the camp-fire stories, put them on papyrus.  Pretty soon people were conned into believing that what they had written was in fact the inspired word of God or “Yahweh” as they did not dare call Him.  Over the years the books became THE Book, the Bible.

2.   A Jewish preacher, some millennia later, came on to the scene.  Jesus may or may not have existed, but we know the story of His life, doctrine, death and supposed Resurrection from another set of supposedly divinely inspired texts which became for them an extension of The Book, the New Testament, completing what Christians call the Old Testament.  It is much less exciting and short on sex, deluges, genocides and epic battles, but it is full of parables, miracles, moral injunctions and threats about what will happen to us when we die if we do not walk the line.  As Scripture it is the principal source of Christian dogma.

3.   But dogma has another source, reserved to Catholics.  It is called Tradition.  This means that if a given belief, no matter how weird or unfounded, survives a few centuries, it is thereby guaranteed to be part of Divine Revelation and therefore true.  (By the same logic, the survival of superstitions like walking under a ladder would be proof of their veracity…).

4.  On the basis of these two sources, the One True Church –  of which the infallibility is guaranteed by Source No.1 and a story about Jesus building His Church on Simon the fisherman become Rocky the Fisher of Men, alias Peter, the first Pope – is authorized to proclaim as divine truth whatever it sees fit to proclaim.  It can declare, for example, that Jesus is bodily, really present in consecrated bread and wine, because of His words at the Last Supper, as recorded in the New Testament Gospels : “This is my body; this is my blood”.  It decided to declare, nineteen centuries after the event, that Jesus’ Mum Mary was conceived free of Original Sin, a concept invented by Saint Augustine some three hundred years after her supposed Assumption physically into Heaven, because both beliefs, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, had been held, for long enough by enough theologians -  with some notable exceptions including the mistaken Thomas Aquinas - as well as by a lot of the faithful.  To make the justification sound serious, this is called the “sensus fidelium”, the “sense of the faithful”, guided by the same holy Ghost who inspired Scripture.  The result is dogma, also known as fogma, Godologians’ stock-in-trade, the subject of sermons and the stuff of blind faith and blind folly. 

                                                   RIDENDA   RELIGIO 

 

   

ATHEISM : KILLER OF JOY, HOPE AND ALTRUISM ?

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Some readers of my book and of this blog have told me how much they pity me, and how much they regret, despise and oppose what I am doing.  Good Christians, they genuinely feel sorry for me and the presumably sad, empty life I have created for myself.  They are afraid my case, like my life, is hopeless, but pray for me anyway.  They thank God they have their faith to keep them warm and happy and hopeful.  They are distressed that I am trying to get others to question and abandon their faith.   As if it were not bad enough that I am ruining my own life, wasting the opportunities I had and still have to discover the bounties of His love, the satisfaction, the comfort, the reassurance that come from faith in a loving, forgiving God, it seems that I am hell-bent on getting others to share my miserable, meaningless existence, and leading them to regret eternally the Heaven they and I could have had.  Sadly, they say, I sometimes succeed in getting believers (on the brink) to give up God, leaving them with nothing : nothing and no one to believe in, no hope for the future and no reason to care about anyone besides themselves.  They might not go quite as far as the gentle Jesus, who declared that it would be better if scandal -mongers like me had never been born and that we deserve to be drowned with a millstone tied around our neck.  But they would prefer that I cease and desist, or at least soften my cruel blows against belief in God, His revelation and His Church, and not disturb the serenity of people whose faith is essential to the meaning they give to their lives and to their deaths.

An “Apologia Pro Atheismo Meo” would not convince hard-core believers, any more than the 400 Reflections already published to date here (178) and in my “From Illusions to Illumination” (227).  But I feel obliged to remind them at least of the following :

1.   People have every right to believe, or not believe, whatever they like.  People have the right to express their belief or disbelief.  People also have the right to try to convince others to change their mind, to reject or accept beliefs.

2.   Efforts to encourage people to modify their belief or disbelief must be devoid of physical, psychological or other duress or the threat thereof, as well as of dishonesty, manipulation and attacks against, or disrespect for, the person of the believer or unbeliever.  Respect for the person does not exclude disrespect for the beliefs held or rejected.

3.   Persons attempting to promote or destroy beliefs are entitled to use any other means they wish which they consider appropriate to achieve their objective.

Propagandists on both sides of a question realize that their cause is not served if their methods alienate their opponents.  “Captatio benevolentiae” (capturing benevolence) is a permanent rhetorical imperative.  But “le style c’est l’homme”, “style is the man”.  Mine is not everybody’s cup of tea, and I have only myself to blame if I shoot myself in the foot, turn people off or mix metaphors.

But I will always reject the fallacy that only religion can assure a genuine joie-de-vivre.  I have learned to live without religion’s illusions and would not want to seek meaning, purpose and joy in fantasy.  I have no need of religion to lead a meaningful, purposeful, joyous life which I know will end definitively in death.  Nor do I need religion to give me reasons for respecting my fellow-man and contributing to helping ensure that his life, as well as my own, are in keeping as far as possible with human dignity.  I am honest enough to say that I am NOT my brother’s keeper (if only because such a “brother” is a metaphor derived from the myth of God the Father of us all), and do not claim or pretend to love my fellow-man as much as myself, my own family and close friends, but I am dedicated to offering people in need whatever help I can, including my vision of religion as ridiculous and atheism as a liberation - even if I am a bit heavy-handed, trigger-happy and never short of poisoned arrows aimed not at people but at silly beliefs, silly rules and silly rituals.  Ridicule is a two-edged sword but often an effective means of getting people to realize that religious credulity would be funny if it were not so tragic.  Hence  :

                                          RIDENDA   RELIGIO        

THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION

This blog has become as much the work of Thom, indefatigable commentator, as my own.  We share a fascination with credulity, and in particular with beliefs, myths, become officially defined dogmas.  My buggaboo is the Assumption of Mary, her miraculous Lift-Off.  Thom’s is the equally incredible Immaculate Conception.  Readers will appreciate his insights in the extended comment that follows

DEGREES OF IMPROBABILITY

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Democritus, Lucretius and Darwin were right in what they all wrote about “chance and necessity”, and in denying any intentionality or purpose in creation.  To say that a supposed Intelligent First Cause created the world is a highly improbable claim.  To suggest that on the basis of this unlikely, incredible hypothesis one can deduce, in six easy steps, that Mary was physically assumed into Heaven is not only to abuse logic but to expose such credulity to ridicule.  On the other hand, even Dawkins recognises the astronomical odds against the improbable spontaneous coming into being of our Universe and ourselves.  Both the theist and atheist affirmations are, in differing degrees, pretty hard to swallow.  But the evidence strongly favors Dawkins and atheists like myself.  There is not and never was a Divine Watchmaker, blind or otherwise.

On a more down-to-earth level, my own life has been full of the unexpected, unforeseeable and improbable.  Chance – literally – would have it that I was born in the Lucky Country, and, as it happens, of Catholic parents.  Given the context which I detail in my book, “From Illusions to Illumination”, it was hardly unexpected, unforeseeable or improbable that I should have become a Franciscan Roman Catholic priest, a bit surprising perhaps that I was chosen to do doctoral studies in Godology, not exceptional – it was the revolutionary year of 1968 – that I asked to be dispensed from my religious and priestly vows to get married, a little more surprising that I taught Godology for a full decade before, improbably, becoming an atheist.  My subsequent professional career I sometimes find hard to believe myself.

It is fun to establish a list of personal improbabilities, but its interest is more than limited for the people one reader calls the “invisible readers” of this blog.  It is true that only a few of my readers post comments, but the official statistics show that no less than 25 readers have explicitly requested to be “Followers” and to receive so as to read every addition to the blog.  It is also true that even its first version (canalblog) had anonymous readers from at least a dozen different countries, and that I know the names of an admittedly small number of people who are regular but “invisible” readers.  No one knows how many others out there read but never comment.  It would in fact be unlikely, improbable, that among the countless blogs present on the Net, mine should attract legions of readers (wait and see, say I …).

Jesus apparently wrote nothing, except perhaps a few Pharisees’ names in the sand.  My words in the blog will not blow away.  What I have written, I have written, and, however improbably, may be read, by invisible readers, even when I am no longer around to add posts like this one.

                                           RIDENDA   RELIGIO 

   

“TIME, GENTLEMEN, PLEASE !”

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This was the daily mantra many office-workers heard at the pub Down Under in the distant days of 6 o’clock closing.  Off work at 5:30 p.m., they had just thirty minutes to down as many schooners as they could. (laborers started and got off work earlier, so they had more time to guzzle).  The pace and the quantity of Tooth’s or Toohey’s consumed ensured the accomplishment of their mission, which was to get sloshed, or at least feeling no pain, before they took the train home for “tea” – which is what we called, in the British tradition, the evening meal.  There was no problem with alcohol-tests, which didn’t exist, and even if they did the vast majority, if ever they had a car, never drove to the office or its often daily complement, the pub.

For us kids, “Time, gentlemen, please !” came out as “Pens down !” at the end of a test at school.  For the punch-drunk in the ring it was the gong marking the end of the round, or the number “ten” if they were K.O. on the mat.  For the planet it will be the Final Explosion, the end of it all, matching the Big Bang which was its beginning.  But before that, it will be for each of us that frightful death-rattle I hope my grandchildren never hear.  

Not a terribly entertaining or comforting thought, all this.  But it needn’t be depressing.  Right now I’m feeling fine.  I know it can’t last, but that, my dear Finian and other friends, is what finitude is all about. Those who are suffering as they read this (the frequent effect on readers of much that I write, even on people in good health) know that their pain, like their joys, will one day come to a definitive end.  Meager consolation for those, the unlucky ones, whose pain cannot be assuaged by medication.  Life itself has its limits, our days are numbered, the end is, if not near, at least getting nearer for all of us.  “Finis coronat opus” – “The end crowns the work”.

I have found this realization a liberation. I love living and at 77 am making the most of it, but I once thought and taught that death was a mile-stone, a fork in the road, a transition to an imagined eternal life, not a dead-end to existence.  To be able to live and enjoy life without this illusion is no doubt the most precious gift of atheism.  I won’t mind hearing, or imagining I hear, “Frank, it’s time !”

                                      RIDENDA   RELIGIO   

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