POINTS OF VIEW

Maybe, from your window, you can see Mont St Michel, or the Statue of Liberty, or the Eiffel Tower, or the Harbour Bridge.  In Paris, after I left the Franciscans, I lived with Marie-Claire in a tiny “studio” in Pigalle, a former maid’s single room, seventh floor, no elevator (or even a lift !), with a view of . . . a brick wall !  Later, in my new career as a Director in a French multinational company, I had an unobstructed view of the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysées from my fourth storey office-window at the Place de l’Etoile.  Today, retired, I have to put up with just the Atlantic Ocean and Zeee Beeech as seen from the deck of my ‘ouse in Bidart.

There’s always something to see from the deck : surfers waiting for and exploiting the big ones, paddlers further out who seem to be walking on water, small boats and skidoos with the occasional tanker on the horizon, seagulls, clouds and, on the beach, suntaners doing sweet bloody nothing, others playing shuttlecock, kids throwing a rugby ball to each other, youngsters flying acrobatic kites while the tiny-tots discover what you can do with a bucket and spade in the sand.  Yesterday I saw a procession of old folks, trudging across the beach to delay the hardening of their arteries and their inevitable imminent immobility.  This evening I will see either a gorgeous sunset or a storm rolling in, complete with celestial pyrotechnics.  The beach provides an ever-changing free spectacle for the deck-set.

We all have points of view, by which we usually mean opinions, the way we see things.  Some people have a mind-set that colors their points of view, dominantly optimistic, for example, or pessimistic.  We inherit many of our points of view, notably in matters of religion and politics, but often change them when we learn to think for ourselves.

I’m glad I lived to experience many different views from my window, in all five continents, for different periods of time, ending up with my favorite, the ocean-view from my deck – where I am writing this on a cool autumnal morning.  I was fortunate enough also to have been able to change the points of view inculcated in me as a child and in my theological education.  “From Illusions to Illumination” : the title of my book sums it up.  I am a very lucky man.

                                            RIDENDA    RELIGIO

THE UNPARDONABLE SIN

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When I was a kid at the Marist Brothers school in Kogarah, ten miles south of Sydney, from age 8 till 15, I would not have known what “pedophilia” meant, had I ever heard the word.  We all used, and confessed to using (!), the “bad” word “bugger”, and told one another to “bugger off” or to “go to buggery” – but we had no idea what the legal word meant.  More to the point, we never heard of men of God “doing” it.  The Brothers who taught us were not saints (with one notable, canonizable exception, Brother Charles Howard).  Some were vicious in their unrestrained practice of corporal punishment of the children they had the vocation to teach and whose virtue they were supposedly dedicated to foster.  But they and our parish priests were all honorable men, incapable of buggery or, worse, pedophilia . . .

In Catholic schools, in the Church and the world at large in the forties and fifties, there was never a hint of public scandal in this domain among the clergy and within religious Orders.  During my sixteen years as a Franciscan, up till 1968 when I left the Order and the priesthood, I never heard of Christian and Marist Brothers, diocesan or religious clergy being accused of pedophilia.  It was, of course, rampant – “in petto” – throughout their ranks, as we now know, and perhaps even in my own Order.  But it is only in recent years that you and I have become conscious of the crimes committed, and the crimes covered up, for decades.  It was the best-kept secret in Holy Mother Church, known no doubt to confessors but certainly to superiors of friaries, monasteries, parishes and dioceses.  But now we all know.  And as the years go by and a fraction of the guilty are brought to court, I am more and more disgusted at the revelation of the horror stories lived over decades by the silent victims of supposedly holy men of God, who were literally real buggers and criminal child-molesters.

The Church has paid God knows how many millions of dollars to a tiny minority of the victims in “compensation”, as though a check could soothe the shame and the pain of the poor kids who did not dare tell even their parents, for fear of being punished for lying, and kept silent for sometimes forty years before “coming out”, their lives ruined by the Church officially dedicated to their . . . salvation !

I  personally was lucky as a child to have escaped the monsters and to live my religious and priestly life blissfully unaware of what many of my colleagues were doing.  Ignorant and innocent, I still feel shame and anger at having been a part of a Church which could knowingly condone and cover up such crimes.  But I am heart-broken when I think of the predators’ prey.  “Sorry” will never make up for the permanent damage done to innocent kids.  I left the Church for other reasons.  But this one, had I known it, would have had me racing for the exit.  How can priests and religious today live with such a stain on the immaculate albs of the clergy and the impeccable habits of the teaching Brothers ?  I would be ashamed today to be part of such an institution.

D E L E N D A      E C C L E S I A ,      D E L E N D A      R E L I G I O

AN INSOMNIAC’S EPITAPH : “SLEEP , AT LAST ! “

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It’s  a true story.  The insomniac in question was an early member of the French Academy, who died in 1644, a certain Canon Nicolas Bourbon, famous for the fact that he could write only in Latin.  He was the second to occupy the chair which was to be, 330 years later, that of Claude Lévi-Strauss and presently of Amin Maalouf, whose recent “Un Fauteuil sur la Seine”, is the source of this anecdote.

The Canon was a chronic non-sleeper.  The most insignificant event, like an invitation to dinner, could keep him awake all night.  He was one of the Academy’s least brilliant Immortals, but like all of them he died, aged 70.  No doubt he believed he would graduate from the terrestrial Academy to the celestial, where he would live forever, or as he would have said, “ad vitam aeternam”.  The jokester who wrote his epitaph took “eternal rest” literally, and imagined his heavenly bliss as sleep at last.

Of course, the Canon never discovered that even that was wishful thinking.  At least his eternal night would not be spent awake.

RIDENDA    RELIGIO

HOW COULD THEY BELIEVE SUCH OUTRAGEOUS NONSENSE ?

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Naturally, reading this Blog, you think the question concerns religious credulity.  It does.  But before we get to that, let’s reflect for a moment on the Final Solution and the extraordinary feat of convincing almost a whole nation that Jews, because they were Jews, deserved to be gassed and cremated – in their millions !

Everything that can be said about the most murderous pogrom in human history has already been said.  It has not necessarily been heard.  For the last eighty-three years , since the construction of the Dachau death-camp near Munich, many people have still not heard of it.  There are even revisionist historians who deny that the concentration camps and the gas-chambers ever existed.  It is essential that the truth be taught worldwide and to every generation . . . lest we forget.

I continue to be fascinated by the fact that Nazi anti-semitic propaganda was so successful in Germany years before World War 2.  In fact, many have still to learn that German anti-semitism reaches back many centuries.  Daniel Goldhagen’s “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” should be universal required reading, in a condensed, readable form rather than as the doctoral thesis it is, in High Schools everywhere.

Perhaps the most shocking and powerful revelation of this abominable, unthinkable genocide is to be found in filmed documentaries of the discovery of the camps by the American forces in 1945.  They asked the question we have repeated ever since : how could this ever have happened, how could anyone, Hitler’s countless henchmen, have made it happen, but also how could millions of ordinary German people have allowed it to happen ?

Behind such questions is the fundamental one : what motivated people to perpetrate or to condone such an outrage ?  How could they be convinced that Jews were “Untermenschen”, less than human, less than animals ?  How could they be so credulous ?

If the lies of Hitler and Goebbels made sense to people, it had to be because they wanted to believe them.  They grew up in an anti-semitic society; they already had their own prejudices, fueled by an irrational fear of exploitation by a supposed Jewish cartel, and fanned by State propaganda.  At the beginning they could not foresee, no doubt, the eventual outcome of this ancestral racial hatred of Jews.  Many would later deny they ever knew of the existence of the Final Solution.  But they allowed themselves to be blinded by a visceral loathing that would gel into genocide.  The only good Jew was a dead one. Besides, the Jews, all Jews, were responsible for the death of Jesus . . .

We can be made to believe and accept just about anything.  Religious credulity is permanent proof of the fact.  It is particularly easy to swallow lies if people around you do, and if the lies promise personal advantages and offer wish-fulfillments.  Only when an individual begins to think for him or herself, only when one takes a hard look at the flimsiness, the vacuity and the mendacity of the reasons proposed for believing, is there hope for the recognition of the truth.  The Shoah should have taught us at least that.

D E L E N D A       R E L I G I O 

 

 

D E R A D = R E H A B ?

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The second word in the title is well-known to junkies and alkies like the late Amy Winehouse and her fans for whom it is the title of the song that made her famous.  “Rehabilitation” is a euphemism for a process of painful withdrawal from a dehumanizing drug addiction.  “Deradicalization”, more recent and more challenging, is withdrawal from Radical Islamic fanaticism, a drug more powerful than alcohol or heroine because it is based on religion, the opium of the people.

Withdrawal programs in the Deradicalization Centers currently being opened in France target only people attracted to terrorism, not confirmed addicts.  Neither Deradicalization or Rehabilitation can work unless the subject requests treatment of his or her attraction to the drug in question.  People identified as potential candidates for Radical Islam are invited to sessions of Derad.  They are volunteers, like the patients in Rehab.  (Amy Winehouse sang “No, No, No !” to Rehab.)  Even when (if ?) they are “cured”, we are still left with the unconverted terrorists who say “No, No, No !” to Derad and want nothing more than to blow us and themselves up.

I have already proposed a Media-Blitz, which I believe could be far more, and more widely, effective in sowing doubts in the minds of potential terrorists than Derad Centers.  However, for the gung-ho terrorist a Media-Blitz may be just as ineffective.  Our best hope is to exploit, as part of the Blitz, the testimony of rare, converted fanatics.  The story of their demotivation and enlightenment may shake the convictions of at least some of those still hooked on the hallucinations of Radical Islam.  Until someone comes up with a better idea, that’s about all we can do.  We must never lose hope.  One day we shall overcome.

DELENDA    RELIGIO

 

” A SLOW AND PAINFUL DEATH “

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This is the promise on a cigarette pack I saw recently but did not buy.  Had I still been the smoker I was until 31 years ago, I would have bought it – whatever the hell it cost – although the photo, accompanying the words on the packet and in the title above, may have shaken me a bit – but I’m afraid not enough to stop me from getting my daily dose from two packs of twenty.

The photo was indeed disgusting, and more effective than the usual one of diseased lungs.  This one was of the multicolored, festering mess on some poor smoker’s throat; leprosy could not be much worse.  Cancer of the pancreas will kill you relatively quickly.  But you can’t see it every time you look in the mirror.  This throat cancer, externally visible, is promised to kill you slowly and painfully.  If I hadn’t stopped smoking, I’m sure I would have transferred the cigarettes from the packet to an elegant leather cigarette-case with gold metal trim and no photos at all.  It would not make my death any less slow or painful, but at least I would not be reminded of the threat every time I pulled the packet out of my pocket.

After 25 years of cigarettes and 50 of alcohol, I neither smoke nor drink.  But I may still have to face a slow and painful death.  Once the medical verdict was in, the problem would be quickly resolved.  Elementary, my dear Watson : euthanasia.  I pity people who refuse this obvious … quick and painless solution.  Religion, itself a cancer, poisons everything, including rationality.

  DELENDA    RELIGIO

PROPAGANDA , PLEASE !

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Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and Goebbels gave the word a bad name and its present pejorative connotation, but the Vatican continues to use the Latin word to describe the work of its Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.

I have proposed that we launch a media-blitz, a propaganda campaign, against Radical Islam.  The countries most under threat from terrorists have communication skills and talent to burn.  Such a campaign of persuasion is not only our last resort; it is the best weapon we have.  Every day we see how successful are the advertising campaigns that get us to buy all sorts of goods and services, as well as to vote for political candidates.  If Madison Avenue can do it for toilet paper and the spin doctors  for Trump, why not get them, along with Hollywood’s best film-makers – aided by specialists in politics and religion – to produce TV spots, leaflets, billboards, whatever, to sow doubts in the minds of would-be terrorists and the fanatics we fear ?  If we don’t, I’m afraid we’re doomed.  Publish propaganda or perish.

DELENDA    RELIGIO

DAECH : THE AFTERMATH OF A PROBABLE “PYRRHIC” VICTORY

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It seems that the airstrikes by the Coalition, as well as by Russian bombing, will, before long, result in the military destruction of Daech.  Observers, however, are already calling it a “pyrrhic victory”, recalling that of King Pyrrhus of Epirus against the Romans at the end of the 4th century A.D., whose success cost him so many troops that his “victory” left him defenseless.  The situation in Syria and in Radical Islam worldwide, to say nothing of the military might of its imminent conquerors, today makes the use of the epithet inaccurate.  Even if (when) Daech is destroyed militarily, the world will still face the permanent threat of terrorism, because of the highly motivated men (and now, in France, women) fanatics in the field, who do not need Daech’s military stronghold, financing or even logistic coordination to pursue their murderous mission to avenge Allah and his Prophet.  In the near future anti-terrorist efforts will be concentrated on the “lone wolves”, the “sleepers”, whose fanaticism can turn them into devastating human bombs anywhere, at any time.

Nevertheless, the military defeat of Daech will seriously impede the progress of Radical Islam to impose a Caliphate and charia law.  It will also have a demoralizing effect on some individual fanatics, while increasing the thirst for vengeance of many others.  It is time to launch the media-blitz.

DELENDA     RELIGIO

DON’T CRY FOR ME , ARGENTINA ! DON’T PRAY FOR ME EITHER.

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The death notices are neither surprising nor frighteningly frequent, just more frequent.  I also expect the sun to set later today.  My personal sunset could happen anytime.  When it does, I don’t want you all to repair to a Wailing Wall, or start getting Masses said for the repose of my “soul”, or even to dust off your “Golden Book of Indulgences” to get me out of Purgatory (a waste of time, when you realize that, if either place existed, I would be in the other one, in the deepest depths of Hell).

All this comes to mind since I received this morning news of the death of Ed, a schoolmate of seven decades ago, a highly successful chartered accountant, a licensed pilot and a victim of Parkinson’s.  Almost all of our mates will be talking about Ed, R.I.P.  Ed is not at rest.  Ed is dead and already decaying.  He no longer exists, except in the memories of some who had the pleasure of the company of a man whose life was one of achievement and, I hope, of love given and love received.  He is a corpse without cognition or feeling.  He will live, not in the bosom of Abraham or united with his parents but only as a remembered, respected and well-loved schoolmate, whose post-school life, moreover, is known only to a privileged few.  His post-earthly life is the quaint product of non-atheists’ credulity.

Words like these will seem cruel, insensitive and unnecessary to many.  But death is a challenge for all of us to recognize that it marks a definitive “finis” to our lives.  Our old M.B.K. school motto says it all : “Finis coronat opus”, “The End Crowns the Work”.  Ed’s is over.  Ours soon will be.  But mine is not finished yet.  This is not (I hope) my Last Post …

RIDENDA    RELIGIO .

I N T O L E R A N C E

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Freud was not first to have affirmed that Judaism’s invention of monotheism was the origin of religious intolerance, which until then was, as he wrote, “unknown in Antiquity”.  The affirmation has been corrected by, among others, the psychoanalyst Gérard Haddad : “It is not monotheism which leads to intolerance but the will to impose it as a universal faith.” (“Dans la Main Droite de Dieu.  Psychanalyse du Fanatisme”, Premier Parallèle, 2015, p.116).  Christianity’s founder decreed that His doctrine must be “preached to every creature”.  Seven centuries later, Islam claimed to be the Ultimate Revelation for all mankind.  The history of the three monotheisms could almost make us nostalgic for the good old days of polytheism, when no religion claimed to be the one true faith.  That claim has led to a long history not only of theological conflict but even wars between rival religions.

Many have, in recent centuries, and in particular the 20th, come to learn to live with and tolerate people of religious persuasions different from their own.  The anti-Protestantism of my childhood has given way to ecumenism, the Council of Churches and even to increasing indifference to any religious belief and practice.  Anti-semitism, dedicated to the destruction not only of Jewish culture and religion but of the Jewish people, is widely recognized as a pernicious aberration that led to the Holocaust.  Islam, which for most of us was a largely unknown, irrelevant religion practised in far-away countries, has in recent times become very much present in our own, and in its radical, fanatical expression, identified as an intolerance which seeks to destroy all other religions and force their members to convert or to be executed : an intolerable intolerance.

In our own lifetime we have experienced the before and after of 9/11.  Since then, the relative tranquillity and mutual tolerance between religious faiths to which we had become accustomed, is increasingly giving way to an irrational islamophobia embracing  moderate as well as radical versions of Islam.

How does atheism fit into this picture ?  We, of course, are the arch-enemies of Daech, but so are all faith-stances except wahhabism and salafism.  Atheists continue to be a thorn in the side of all religions, but no religion except Radical Islam practises more than intellectual intolerance of our atheism.  Many atheists ignore religion and prefer to find better things to do with their lives than attack it.  Some of us, however, are militant in our opposition to religions.  Our (non-violent) intolerance is coupled with a certain frustration : why can’t they recognize that their religion is the irrational product of credulity ?  Non-atheists are equally frustrated that we refuse to accept the “evidence” for the existence of God, the “validity” of divine revelation, and the “reality” of the soul and an afterlife.  (Believers on the Brink, at least, have begun to have doubts.)  Both theirs and ours are examples of tolerable intolerance.  Whence my personal adaptation of the “Serenity Prayer” :

“God (or whatever), give me the guts to denounce radical religious intolerable intolerance, the creativity to convince and convert BOTBs whose intolerance is tolerable, and the wisdom to recognize the difference.”

                                             R I D E N D A       R E L I G I O