ANTICIPATION

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The day after tomorrow will be a big day for me.  Every two years I return to visit family and friends in Australia.  This is the third time I will be accompanied by a granddaughter and her family, to celebrate her tenth birthday.  My first trip home, after an absence of seventeen years, was in 1981.  Will this be, at age 80, thirty-six years later, my last ?  The question augments the anticipation and excitement for what may be my final flight.

No, I am not afraid of flying.  Have had a scare or three in my time, but my job as a trainer of managers in a multinational corporation took me to the U.S., countries all over Europe and some in Asia, so often, that even the long haul Down Under, twenty hours in the air, does not make me wonder whether my plane will crash but what latest movies it is offering.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder”.  “Anticipation is the greater part of pleasure”.  The clichés apply.  I do wonder whether this trip will live up to my Great Expectations.  Biennial family reunions imply encounter with the phenomenon of growing up – and growing older.  Some of the younguns will now share the champagne, as we fête the arrival of newborn Anabella, the latest addition to the clan of which I have become patriarch-in-waiting (my brother-in-law is a nicely-preserved nonagenarian).  All three of my brothers and one of my sisters, present at previous parousias, will not be attending this one.  Equally absent from other gatherings will be schoolmates and confreres no longer available to share nourishment and nostalgia at our Sans Souci luncheons and Franciscan Chapters of Mat(e)s (exegesis on request).  Catching up on news from survivors and the Faithful Remnant will involve surprises,  pleasant and unpleasant.  It will be no surprise for family and friends to discover that I have not improved since last time.

We look forward to events like these.  Some others we dread.  Anything, we say, could happen and probably will.  I will be discovering places I’ve never seen before, like Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, and revisiting places I have known and loved since I was a Kid from Kogarah in the forties and fifties, like N.S.W.’s Blue Mountains and above all the ‘Arbour, the Quai, the Bridge, the ferries and Manly, seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care.

For all sorts of reasons, this could be my last trip home (though I have a strong feeling it won’t).  It is certain at least that I won’t need all the fingers on one of my hands to count the maximum.  I am resigned to the fact of both the end of my career as a traveler – and as a pilgrim and stranger on this earth.  When I first left Australia in 1964 to study Theology in Paris, I had no idea what the future would hold.  I did know – surprise, surprise ! – that one day I would die.  The difference now is that I now know that when I do, that will be it !  I no longer anticipate meeting Peter at the Pearly Gates.  I will settle for meeting Anabella at Carss Park on Kogarah Bay.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

IT’S ABOUT TIME !

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This week’s (July 24) TIME magazine carries major articles on North Korea, the G-20, Hong Kong and China, Mosul in Irak, the new Irish P.M., the Trials of Trump, Obamacare, Physical Fitness, as well as the usual  book and movie reviews and celebrity interviews.  But this week I was struck by a number of minor items – which we speak of in this Blog.  I don’t mean to brag but Blog-material in TIME would indicate that “Blind Faith : Blind Folly” is no stranger to current affairs, some of which are discussed in the Blog … before TIME !  Here are a baker’s half-dozen items which readers of this Blog will immediately recognize :

  1. Cardinal Pell goes on trial for pederasty on July 26 in Melbourne.  (page 6)
  2. Chinese scientists have proven that teletransportation works.  (page 11)
  3. The winner of two  $1 million dollar prizes and another of $50,000 in a state lottery during one month in 2014 called his luck “a blessing from the Lord”.  (page 11)
  4. Parents and physicians and facing the quandary of euthanasia for an incurable eleven-month old baby who cannot breathe on his own, hear or move his arms or legs and who suffers from seizures that require medication to control.  (page 19)
  5. “The surprisingly peaceful origins of Bastille Day” reveals what you read in the post of July 16.  (page 21)
  6. The six-page article on Trump concludes with reference to the President’s “bull-in-a-china-shop style”, recalling my July 10 (!) suggestion that the cliché may soon morph into a “Trump-in-the-Oval-Office”.  (page 31)
  7. Casey Affleck’s movie, “A Ghost Story”, makes the reviewer wonder : “Who knows if there is life after death ?” – a constant theme in our Blog.        RIDENDA      RELIGIO

IS RELIGIOUS FAITH MADNESS ?

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Some of us are a little too quick on the draw when we say some people are mad.  We usually mean “eccentric”, “irresponsible”, “outrageous” – but not “mentally ill”.  It is common enough, however, for atheists to consider religious faith true madness.  After all, it fits the definitions.  The title of Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” was deliberately chosen by the author, for whom a delusion is a persistent false belief in the face of strong contradictory evidence (or, I would suggest with Bertrand Russell, lack of sufficient evidence).  Dawkins seems to agree with Robert Pirsig’s statement in “Lila” (1991) : “When one suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity.  When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called religion”.  He would no doubt also agree with William Harwood who said :  “The difference between faith and insanity is that faith is the ability to hold firmly to a conclusion that is incompatible with the evidence, whereas insanity is the ability to hold firmly to a conclusion that is incompatible with the evidence”.

We atheists, but also non-atheists, members of mainline Christian churches, agree that the world is full of religious nutters.  Pentecostal snake-handlers, tent-revival enthusiasts conned by charismatic, “miracle”-working preachers like Jim Jones and his credulous congregation of nine hundred willing consumers of poisoned Kool-Aid, the “martyrs” of Daech and Al-Qaida – their name is Legion.  But we all know people who believe in the “Real Presence” of Jesus in a wafer of bread, in the divine inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible and the Koran, in the reality of life after death – people who otherwise are as rational as we are.  We seem to make an exception for them.  The vast majority of mankind has some sort of religious belief.  Maybe Robert Pirsig was right . . .

Whether or not we consider believers mad, there is clearly no point in broadcasting the fact.  It is a perfect dialogue-stopper.  Trading insults never won arguments and succeeds only in perpetuating a dialogue of the deaf.  It is far more effective when talking to a Jehovah Witness who refuses a blood-transfusion for his child because God forbids it, to ask “How do you know that ?”  The question has, in fact, universal application : the inspiration of Scriptures, the Resurrection of Jesus, the infallibility of Scripture and even of the Pope – the question applied to all such beliefs puts the monkey on the believer’s back.  We don’t have to disprove such beliefs, including belief in the existence of God; the burden of proof is on the non-atheist.

Accusing believers of insanity is water on a duck’s back.  I was one (a believer, not a duck) for fully half my life.  I would never have admitted that I was nuts.  I may right now be on my way to precocious senescent dementia, Alzheimer’s, but I’m not there yet.  I’ve always had a “mens sana”, though not necessarily in a “corpore sano”.  I guess the reason believers dismiss the accusation of insanity is that there are billions of perfectly normal people like them.  They can’t all be nut-cases.  Objectively, their beliefs are unfounded and irrational.  We have to help them realize that.  It won’t happen by telling them they’re crazy.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

L’AUSTRALIE : MA PATRIE ; LA FRANCE : MA LIBERTE

I am writing this on July 14, France’s national holiday, chosen in 1880 not only in commemoration of the Fall of the Bastille in 1789 but also as the Feast of the Federation, the 1790 first birthday of the Republic.  The annual military parade and display of force have long overshadowed this second, celebratory, forgotten dimension of what is now simply called la Fête Nationale.

This year all stops were pulled out to mark the centenary of the intervention of the U.S. in 1917, which contributed significantly – with heavy cost in American lives – to the victory of 1918.  Donald Trump was guest of honor, and proudly saluted the ancient trucks and antique tanks, as well as a symbolic contingent of U.S. troops, including five in World War One uniforms.

Two weeks from today I will begin my biennial visit to Australia, accompanied by members of my French family.  My children were all born in the U.S., where we lived for ten years.  At 80 years of age I look back at my initial 27 years in Australia and my 43 years in France, separated by a full decade Stateside, and sum up my life in the words of this post’s title, with the addition of “Entretemps, l’Unique Amérique”, “In Between, America the Unique”.

Australia is, literally, my fatherland, the country where I, and my parents, were born.  France, of which I have become a citizen, is my country of adoption.  Above all, it is the country where I discovered the liberty of a libre-penseur, a free-thinker, expressed in my atheism.  In between the two, America, so different from both Australia and France, a fascinating kaleidoscope of extremes I was lucky enough to experience first-hand.

Today I feel proud to be French, do not regret leaving the States, and remain viscerally attached to Down Under.  It is, I suppose, ironic that I was sent as a priest to France to do post-graduate studies in Theology, which served my ten-year career as a lay-theologian, professor of Theology and Religious Education Director in the U.S., before returning to France – an atheist – to begin, at age 41, a business-career of 23 years, and, after retirement 16 years ago, the active promotion of atheism through my book and this blog.

“Non, rien de rien; je ne regrette rien”.  That is no more true for me than it was for Edith Piaf in her signature song.  But, in spite of some hardships and very few regrets, I have been very fortunate.  It makes no sense to wonder what I would do if I had my life to live over again.  But I can honestly say that I consider myself lucky to have had the experiences I have had – not only living in three different countries for significant lengths of time, but in the education I received, the religious faith I inherited and later rejected, the experience as a Franciscan for fifteen years – seven of them as a priest – and the opportunity I have had to share my questioning of faith and its illusions with Believers on the Brink.  I do not deserve the luxury of having been happily married for more than twenty years, being the father of three marvelous children and grandfather of their Fabulous Five, of having had a satisfying professional career and continuing to have an intellectually invigorating retirement living in France and maintaining a French Connection with Australia.

I would thank God, if He existed, instead of which I thank all those who made this life of mine possible.  “God” sure as Hell didn’t.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

BONES , ASHES , GENES , MEMORIES

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Though I think and talk about it a lot, I am not morbidly obsessed with death – including my own.  As a fact of life even more difficult to think, let alone talk, about than the others, it seems to me normal that we acknowledge and accept this inevitable last act of our life, which will have no sequel.

The title of this post is short-hand for what will be left of our lives after the fatal day.  Famous people are “immortalized” in the statues, street-names and anniversaries honoring them.  Entrepreneurs leave different monuments behind them in the form of corporations and businesses; engineers and architects are remembered for the bridges and other constructions they designed and built.  Doctors, teachers and sometimes even lawyers are remembered with gratitude and affection by those they helped.  Scientists, politicians, authors and artists have often made memorable contributions to human welfare, progress and culture.  The rest of us will continue to exist in coffins and urns, but also hopefully in descendants and perhaps in the memories of people who loved or hated us.

I hope to continue to exist after my death in what I have written.  I will know nothing of future readers’ reactions to my book and to my blog.  To judge from the reactions I get at  present, they will be a mixed bag, including, I hope, an occasional “like”.  There is, inevitably, a certain measure of satisfaction if not arrogance in imagining such post-mortem intellectual survival.  But I like to think that what I have written will continue to help at least some people to enjoy life – as I have for at least half of mine – free of religious illusions.  It’s what keeps me writing posts like this.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

STORM – ALERT !

I just read in the paper that a massive storm is raging on . . . the planet Jupiter.  I could not resist wondering out loud why on earth (?) God would have created this enormous planet, composed of gas, and made storms happen there.  Not the most profound thought I ever had, but as no one else seems to be reacting theologically to the planetary weather report, I thought I should.  The next post will have more meat and potatoes.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

METAMORPHOSIS

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I have kept the secret for fourteen years.  I remember the exact day when I discovered that I was finally becoming physically what I had been becoming ontologically for the previous quarter-century : June 6, 2003; I was 66.  On Friday, the sixth day of the week in the sixth month of the year, I discovered that I incarnated the Beast of the Apocalypse, whose number is 666.

The first thing I noticed, in the shower at six minutes past six that morning, were the two tiny excroissances on my shoulders and the more visible ones on either side of my forehead.  But it was my feet that shocked me the most : they were turning into cloven hoofs !

It’s not easy to hide morphological modifications like these.  But I had time to get ready to adapt to what I could see would soon be the body of a demon.  My face and hands remained unchanged, though both bear the signs of the four score I now have behind me.  When I’m Home Alone, I kick off my oversized shoes and doff the crazy hat and cloak I wear in public.  When I’m writing a post for my Blog, I need to be comfortable . . .

This is not the sort of thing one brags about.  I mean for my family and (few) friends, it is hard enough obliging them to put up with my anti-social, public atheism.  They would keel over if they saw me in all my diabolical glory.

So why am I Coming Out like this now ?  The reason is simple.  I have written the above to string alone those arch-enemies of me and my Blog, who, reading this up to this point, have been rejoicing in this revelation of my true identity, which, be it said in passing, confirms what they have believed all along : a Franciscan priest could not morph into a militant atheist unless he were possessed by the Devil.  And if the Devil exists, then so does God.  Q.E.D.

Sorry, chaps, but the Devil, the Father of Lies, made me do it !  I have neither wings nor horns nor cloven hoofs.  I’m just an ordinary Joe, like you, who had the good fortune to discover forty years ago that the myths of the world’s religions are as outrageously incredible as the one I just invented.  On s’amuse comme on peut : people get their jollies in the weirdest ways.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO 

 

HITCH’S BEST ARGUMENT

Even Christopher Hitchens, I fear, will one day – like the rest of us – be forgotten.  Normal enough, as far as we nobodies are concerned, but Hitch and his permanently pertinent pearls deserve to be quoted more than the Bible he abhorred.  Luckily, for the time being, “scripta manent” : Hitchens’ masterpiece, “God is Not Great.  How Religion Poisons Everything”, is still being bought and read, and his videos still attract a large audience. He is, of course, irreplaceable.  No one ever ridiculed religion, demolished dogma, condemned credulity or blasted belief to Kingdom Come the way Hitch did.

It is hard to choose, in Hitchens’ oeuvre, the pearl of great price.  My choice has long been his response in the video in which he replies to a Redneck who asked him, somewhat illogically :  “God, you say, does not exist, so why do you spend your life repeating that He doesn’t ?”  (The questioner must have thought not only that he was being clever but that he would destablilize this arrogant atheist.)  After pointing out that his whole life has not been limited to promoting atheism, Hitch rather clumsily introduced his reply by a too-long detailing of the age of Homo Sapiens, ending with : “200,000 years.  Dawkins says 100,000.  Let’s settle for 100,000”.  He needed to do this to put into historical perspective what I consider the most telling argument ever told ridiculing the totally improbable supposed origin of Divine Revelation and the imagined existence of God.  (It doesn’t matter a ratz that recently paleontologists have discovered that Homo Sapiens is in fact at least 300,000 years old.)

What Hitchens said, more or less, was this (check the video for the verbatim version; you’ll find that mine is somewhat … enriched ) :

God, we are told, having, billions of years before, created the Universe, finally got around – just 100,000 years ago – to creating Man.  For almost one hundred millennia He had left Man alone to survive as best he could, keeping out of harm’s way and not too close to the ferocious animals that could devour him, until he learned to hunt and devour them himself.  In time he learned to cook their meat, which made him bigger, stronger and smarter.

Human life went on like this for about 96,000 years (according to Hitchens/Dawkins, but in fact another 200,000), during which time God uttered not a word, though had He existed, He would have been perhaps amused by the fantasies His creature invented to explain why things happened and by the multiple gods and evil spirits Man’s imagination created.  Then one day, out of the blue – after millenia of silence, remember – He spoke !  He revealed Himself to an ignorant dude called Abraham, and told him he was to be the patriarch of His Chosen People, thereby creating the first monotheism and its ridiculous beliefs, rules and rituals.

To Hitch, this was clearly the most preposterous claim humans have ever made.  To him it was patently absurd to imagine the belated intervention of a God who had been around forever, who, unknown to Abraham and his ilk, had preformed a Big Bang nearly 14 billion years previously, and kept His divine, non-existent lips sealed all those hundreds of thousands of years since the birth of Homo Sapiens.

You may not share my admiration for Hitchens’ reductio ad absurdum.  But like him I consider the supposed ultra-recent origin of the true religion – at least as it became 2000 years later when Judaism morphed into (Catholic) Christianity (!) – the most outrageous and poisonous myth mankind has ever swallowed.  If the “creation” of Man – which we know did NOT happen “at the beginning” – is, in historical fact, after millions of millennia, almost an … afterthought, even more incredible is the myth that God decided, in astronomical terms just a minute or so ago, to reveal Himself to His one and only rational creature – who had been around for almost 100,000 years (300,000 in fact) – whose naïve credulity continues to do no credit to his intelligence.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

UPDATE ON THE SHROUD OF TURIN

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Shroud devotees will appreciate the recent research of numismatist Agostino Sferrazza, who believes he has found further … possible “evidence” of the “relic’s” authenticity.  The Roman coins, leptons, the Empire’s least valuable (the “widow’s mite” of the Gospels, equivalent of the old British farthing), placed on the eyes of the corpse, were minted in 29 A.D under Pontius Pilate !  (dixit “Le Monde des Religions”, July-August 2017).

In a lighter vein, most people would not have noticed at the beginning of the highly entertaining movie “The Blues Brothers”, the name of the orphanage in which its stars (of the film if not the orphanage), Elwood and Jake Blues, had been raised under the ruler-wielding iron rule of Mother Mary Stigmata : The Orphanage of the Blessed Shroud.  The Men in Black believed they had a “divine mission” to save the orphanage of their childhood from the tax-man.  Jake, skeptical at first, attends a boisterous, no, hysterical, church service, and during the sermon of the preacher (James Brown) “sees the light”, dances up a storm under the influence of his new faith, and with his brother Elwood sets off on their riotous mission – which involves reuniting their band to make the money needed for the Orphanage of the Blessed Shroud (of Turin).

The iconic movie takes gentle jabs at religion.  Readers of this Blog, discovering or re-seeing this 1980 cinematic masterpiece and pulsating to its rhythm and blues, will appreciate its mild, tongue-in-cheek send-up of religion and in particular the name of the orphanage.  No comment is made on the Shroud of Turin, but at least we cognoscenti recognize the reference as an early warning that the movie will be one enormous joke from beginning to end.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

A CARDINAL’S DAY IN COURT

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Presumption of guilt, “schadenfreude”, gloating are predictable reactions from many inside and outside the Church, as Australian Cardinal George Pell flies home from Rome to face his prosecutors.  Accused, like so many other members of the clergy, of acts of pederasty allegedly committed decades ago, Pell has chosen to face the music, rather than to exploit his immunity within the Vatican, as did his predecessor as CFO of the multinational we call the Catholic Church, the infamous Archbishop Marchinkus – the buddy my boss leaned on to accelerate the granting of my dispensation from the priesthood by Pope Paul VI.  (But that’s another story . . . ).

Pell seems confident that he will be acquitted.  So was my classmate, Brother Christopher (Billy) Wade, recently convicted of the pedophilia practised by no less than 20% of his Marist confreres, and awaiting sentence in September.  If Pell is declared guilty, I will find it impossible – in spite of what Jesus said – to forgive him.  But even if he is declared innocent, many will still consider him worthy of the millstone Jesus decreed for those guilty of scandal.  I will not be one of them.

DELENDA      RELIGIO