CHOOSING TO BELIEVE . . . “ALTERNATIVE FACTS”

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Some people choose to believe in God, as I once did; others choose not to believe, as I do now.  Both should be choices freely taken.  Most believers believe because their environment and education made belief the norm; many never question their faith, some question and finally embrace it.  Non-believers’ atheism may likewise stem from their environment and education; many never question their atheism, some question and finally affirm it.  Thinking people, having weighed the “evidence” (and lack of it), opt for non-belief or belief.  These atheists and non-atheists have at least made a personal choice to refuse to believe or to believe, unlike the ovine majority on both sides.

In the context created since the election of Donald Trump and the extravagant invention, by Kellyanne Conway, of “alternative facts”, light has involuntarily been shed on the choice to believe or not believe.  The reason atheists do not believe is because they find no credible reason to do so – “not enough evidence”, as Bertrand Russell said.  Thanks to Ms Conway we can now say that believers base their faith on “alternative facts”, that is to say, fictions.  A fact, by definition, is backed by evidence to prove its reality.  “Alternative facts”, an absurd oxymoron, contradict the evidence.  To choose to believe them is as irrational as believing in conspiracy theories, UFOs and snake oil.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

REQUIRED READING : YUVAL HARARI’S “SAPIENS”

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I have already written a post on this extraordinary author’s extraordinary book (January 2, 2017 :  “Self-Evident Truths”).  It’s almost 500 pages of easy, fascinating, enlightening reading, written by a young Oxford Ph.D., now a Professor of History in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  To give it the high praise it deserves, I suggest that it is as essential reading as Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Almost Everything” (2004).  Though different in content and style, “Sapiens. A Brief History of Humankind” is just as good, the most readable and most recent account of mankind’s past and present, accompanied by a profound reflection on its – our – future.

The 30-page chapter, “The Law of Religion”, is a highly original insight into the central theme of this Blog.  It is not a militant atheist’s attack on and ridiculing of religious beliefs, rules and rituals – atheism is taken for granted by the author – but a surprising, fact-filled, objective account of the phenomenon of religion, “often considered a source of discrimination, disagreement and disunion”, now seen as “the third great unifier of mankind, alongside money and empires”.  Readers of this Blog will be enriched by this analysis of the origin of the three monotheisms and offered fresh insights into both Buddhism and the “natural law” religions such as liberalism, Communism, capitalism, nationalism and Nazism, as well as of the dualistic religions of Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism and Manichaeanism.

But the book is not just a “brief history of mankind”, of its evolutions and revolutions, of its discoveries and developments, of its ideologies and religions.  Its final chapters offer updated information on the latest features of our history from the Industrial Revolution through the Cyber Revolution we are already living, and what we can expect of the mind-blowing human and post-human (!) adventure in the decades before us.  From the Gilgamesh Project – the ambition to make man “a-mortal” – to biological engineering, cyborg engineering and the engineering of in-organic life, unimagined but real transformations of Homo Sapiens have already begun to force us to face the “Human Enhancement Question” : what do we want to become, now that we are capable of actually choosing what sort of beings we want to be ?  This, the author insists, is not science fiction.  Readers of this Blog and the world at large are challenged by one of the visionary professor’s final statements :  “The Human Enhancement question dwarfs the debates that currently preoccupy politicians, philosophers, scholars and ordinary people . . . Today’s debate between today’s religions, ideologies, nations and classes will in all likelihood disappear with Homo Sapiens.”  For once, the book’s back-cover blurb does not exaggerate :  “Bold, wide-ranging and provocative, ‘Sapiens’ challenges everything we thought we knew about being human : our thoughts, our action, our power … and our future.”

DELENDA      RELIGIO

GOOD NEWS , FAKE NEWS

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“The Pope Admits He is an Atheist”

“Reading the Koran Cures Cancer”

“New York Rabbi Recognized as the Messiah”

One of these outrageous examples of fake news actually appeared in Facebook.  There is no limit to the creativity of fake journalists and their readers’ credulity.

“The Son of God is Born of a Virgin”

“Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead”

“Jesus’ Ascension : ‘We Have Lift-Off !’ ”

All of these equally outrageous examples of fake news actually appear in the Gospels, the “God-spel”, the “Good News”.  There was no limit to the creativity of the Evangelists and believers’ credulity.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

HOW COULD GOD ALLOW A GOOD CATHOLIC FAMILY TO COMMIT SUICIDE ?

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The tragedy was that of a popular, pious, immigrant couple, well-heeled and living in one of Sydney’s lush Northern suburbs, with two beautiful small children – both gifted but unfortunately autistic, deaf and dumb.  Last October the father filled the house with carbon monoxide to kill himself and his whole family, leaving their fellow-parishioners in a state of bewilderment and almost despair.  The Parish Priest, a remarkable man of faith, a former Cistercian monk, a respected theologian and Vicar-General of the diocese, faced the challenge of celebrating the Requiem Mass and preaching a homily which had to try to make Christian sense of a murder-suicide that sent shock waves throughout Australia and beyond.

The international Press picked up the story and reported that the preacher had dared to ask the question : “Where was God on that weekend, where was God in the silence” (I would add, and the gas) ” that filled that family’s home that Sunday ?”.  It did not publish the priest’s attempt to answer his own questions, so I wrote to ask him what he had said.  To my surprise, he sent me the text of his homily, which he has kindly allowed me to publish here.

Repeating the question, “Where is God ?” in his funeral oration, he offered the following reply :  “God is here : God is in life shared in the face of death.  God is present as we wash the feet of one another even in the face of our fears and anxieties.  This is Resurrected life – a light that no darkness can extinguish.”  He concluded his homily by saying that “in life shared in the face of death, by washing the feet of each other in the face of our fears and anxieties, a hope is discovered.  And for those who hope, there is always a future.”

Eloquent words, noble sentiments, a reaffirmation of faith, an admirable, compassionate effort to console the grieving by reinforcing their sense of community, to offer hope as they mourned a couple who had lost theirs and whose lives ended in despair.

For their pastor, it was a Mission Impossible.  But his parishioners heard the best that the Church has to offer in such circumstances.  Their lives will go on, marked forever by an event they will never forget, their faith shaken but presumably intact.  But one has to wonder, if the tragedy had taken place outside such a religious context, whether anyone could offer mourners a consolation essentially any different from the appeal to solidarity to find the courage to bite the bullet and carry on.  “God” was absent; “God” was silent.  “God” did nothing because “He” is a mental construct, without substance or reality, an illusion like the afterlife His spokesmen promise.

God, Christians are told, is love.  That surely means that love is “God”.  Where there is real love between people, “God” is there.  But that “God” is not a Person.  He, she, it is a bond between people, if you like, that makes them better than they are as individuals, gives them strength and fulfillment and puts meaning into their lives.  When it is strong enough, we become almost divine, capable of a courage and generosity which even the cruel death of loved ones cannot destroy.  No need to wonder why a non-existent “God” lets family tragedies and other disasters happen.  What matters is how, as far as possible, we avoid and prevent them, how we react to them, and the solidarity we muster to put them behind us as we pursue the challenge and the adventure of life.

DELENDA      RELIGIO

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HOMILY FOR THE FUNERAL OF MARIA CLAUDIA LUTZ, FERNANDO MANRIQUE, ELISA AND MARTIN.             Fr.David Ranson, Holy Name Church Wahroonga.  31 October 2016.

“The poet Rilke once responded to a young correspondent, remarking that we are to have patience with everything that is unsolved in our heart, and learn to live with the questions that grip us.

In the face of the tragedy that has haunted us over these last two weeks, Rilke’s wisdom, however, is almost too difficult for us to accept.  For the questions that have arisen in our minds and hearts over these days have been overwhelming and have shattered us.  They have touched places deep within us, exposing our fragility and our fear, crucifying the illusion of certainty, and eroding our confidence.

The question of ‘Why ?’ would be difficult enough, if it did not then translate into a score of others : questions about human nature and our trust in its resilience.  We have been disturbed by the questions about the depth of social isolation that can be experienced by families, and especially by men – husbands and fathers – in their struggle to provide and to be present to those that they love, especially when circumstances are challenging.  Questions of regret; questions of guilt.  Questions about our own anxieties and impulses that make despair understandable.  Questions about our relationships and about that incommunicable silence that lies deep within each one of us and admits of no entry by others, no matter how close they are to us, and that underscores the Spanish saying, ‘We never know the thirst from which another person drinks’.  And in the face of this, we question how we can ever protect one another.

With such personal questions we have been left unnerved, unsure.  And so have those around us.  In the face of what we have experienced, our society cannot avoid questions about its capacity to respond to families living constantly with disabilities, just as our Church cannot avoid the question about its own response to those families and persons who look to it for acceptance and a rightful place in its community life, and for different reasons do not find it.

The tragedy in which we are living has exposed the fault lines in our life together.  And we question if the fissures that have opened can ever be bridged satisfactorily.  Yet, as we face the future, we have begun to wonder about the legacy that might be present in the depths of what has been experienced, even if we question our capacity and our commitment to attend to the implications of this legacy and our courage to effect change.

And then we come to the most dramatic of questions : the question about God.  Where was God on that weekend ?  Where was God in the silence that filled Fernando and Maria’s house that Sunday ?  The apparent absence of God is the most difficult question of all.  Where was God for Maria Claudia and Fernando, and for Eli and Martin ?  Where is God for us ?

The silence that greets our question seems almost unbearable.

Yet, in the morning after we learnt of the dreadful news, we lit four candles.  Their flames were fragile, yet in their flickering light we held one another and cried.  We began to share our confusion, our grief, our memories.  People came forward to be present to us.  We looked for ways to be still with each other.  We sought to live the Gospel text we have proclaimed (John 13) : what garments of pretence and presumption we may have had were discarded; we sought to attend to one another where we were hurting.  We began to plan for this moment of gratitude for the lives of Fernando, Claudia Maria, Eli and Martin, surprised and assured by the generosity of so many who have come together to help us.

Into our midst, then, came the families of Maria Claudia and Fernando from far away.  Their embrace of one another, their solidarity in sorrow, and their shared presence confounded an alternative logic, and invited us into a new way of being with each other in our awful experience of loss.  They became for us a living parable of Jesus’ action in the midst of His own grief and fear on the night before He died, about which we have read.

And in all these tender moments, those flickering flames we lit two weeks ago have glowed stronger and stronger in our hearts and in our memories.

Where is God ?  God is here : God is in life shared in the face of death.  God is present as we wash the feet of one another even in the face of our fears and anxieties.  This is Resurrected life – a light that no darkness can extinguish.

Will this change the world ?  Will it mean that we are protected ?  Will it mean that those families with disabilities will no longer have to struggle with the thousand and one concerns that confront them ?

No, but in life shared in the face of death, by washing the feet of each other in the face of our fears and anxieties, a hope is discovered.  And for those who hope, there is always a future.”

 

 

 

FROM “SCOTUS” TO “SCROTUS”

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How many of the nine members of the Supreme Court of the United States know that their acronym, “SCOTUS”,  is the name of a medieval Franciscan philosopher-theologian from Scotland, John Duns Scotus ?  POTUS will not be happy to hear his new handle, “SCROTUS” (“So-Called Ruler of the United States”), and Scotus would be turning in his grave if he had not already been accused of that by Dominican rivals who succeeded in blocking his canonization for that very alternative fact.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

THE DAY GOD ABDICATED

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The 2014 movie, “Emperor”, traces the enquiry conducted for General Macarthur by his aide, one-star General Fellers, as to the possible guilt of Hirohito in initiating war against the United States.  The enquiry concluded that it was impossible to determine whether or not he was guilty of commanding Hideki Tojo to attack Pearl Harbor (curiously predicted in 1923 by U.S. Army airman Brigadier-General Mitchell during his court-martial).  But General Fellers recommended to the Supreme Allied Commander that the Emperor be spared from hanging because he used his authority to impose Japan’s surrender, thus saving the nation that revered him as a god from suicidal annihilation.

In the final credits of the movie, memorable not only for its fidelity in recounting this historical drama, but for the performance of its actors, notably Matthew Fox as Bonner Fellers and Tommy Lee Jones as Douglas Macarthur, the following statement is made concerning the divine Emperor : “He renounced his status as a god.”

Unfortunately we cannot expect such a renunciation from Yahweh, from God the Father of Jesus, or from Allah.  Hirohito, an Emperor but just a man, really existed, and continued his reign until he died in 1989.  The Jewish, Christian and Muslim “gods” never existed.  Their death, nonetheless, has on occasion been declared.  But in spite of such Nietzschean wishful thinking, “God” is not dead.  To die, you have to have had life, in reality, not just in a Book.  God is perhaps the ultimate “alternative fact”.  He will never abdicate, so we must dethrone Him.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

CATHOLIC CLERICAL PEDOPHILIA . . . DOWN UNDER

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The statistics from the Royal Commission in Australia, published on February 6, 2017, are devastating.  But one can wonder already how long it will take for them to be forgotten.  How long before – as with the Holocaust – revisionist historians rewrite history, and in today’s Trumpian jargon, provide “alternative facts” ?  Indignation is running high throughout the country, if not the world, and the Universal Church is reeling under the shock.  But we all know that Holy Mother Church will survive even this catastrophe.  After all, she is guided by the Holy Spirit and protected by the Virgin Mary . . .

The facts are beyond question.  “The Guardian’s” article of 02/06/17, was entitled “4,444 Victims : Extent of Abuse in Catholic Church in Australia Revealed”.  Its first sentence reads :  “Seven Percent of Australia’s priests were accused of abusing children in the six decades since 1950, according to new data from the Royal Commission.”

In what must be considered an understatement, Francis Sullivan, Chief Executive of the Royal Commission, stated that the data “undermines the image and credibility of the priesthood.”  “As Catholics”, he said tearfully, “we hang our heads in shame”.  Witness the figures :

—  15% of priests in some dioceses were alleged perpetrators between 1950 and 2015

—  40% of St John of God brothers were the worst offenders

—  22% of Christian Brothers, 20% of Marist Brothers, 17% of Salesians of Don Bosco were alleged perpetrators

—  1,900 perpetrators were identified; 500 more remain unidentified

—  32% were religious brothers, 30% were priests, 29% were laypeople and 5% were religious sisters

—  10.5 years and 11.6 years : the average age of victims, respectively girls and boys

No amount of “mea culpa’s” will suffice to forgive such crimes and the heinous cover-up that allowed the criminals a free … hand.  But the criminal abuse and cover-up will be forgotten.  Will anyone reading this Blog twenty years from now, when if, by some miracle, I am still alive, I will chalk up a century, be surprised when s/he reads this post ?  I am afraid they will.  In Australia we try to keep alive the memory of Gallipoli and the Somme.  We will try – and succeed – in covering up the Royal Commission.

What did you say ?  Why of course I believe people will be reading this Blog long after its author – an Australian former Catholic priest from 1961-1968 – writes his Last Post !  We must never forget the 20th century’s two unforgivable sins :  Hitler’s Holocaust, incomparable with any other crime, but also the Catholic Church’s Sexual Slaughter of the Innocents.

DELENDA      RELIGIO

” A CONSPIRACY OF FAITH “

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This 2016 Danish film, an adaptation of the third in a best-selling series of four thrillers written by Jussi Adler-Olsen, received mixed reviews.  It is a gripping, fictional story about a serial killer and a Texas religious sect, “The Disciples of God”.  But for readers of this Blog there is an additional interest.  The tandem of detectives on the case is a surly Danish atheist cop and his shrewd Muslim partner.  The film includes a delicious dialogue between the two, where the Muslim objects to the biting cynicism of his atheist colleague, saying that the latter had no right to ridicule religion.  Reader-viewers will enjoy the plot and this added feature which brings to life the central theme and leit-motiv of our Blog, expressed in our mantra . . .

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

The post just below this one asks the question whether ridiculing religion amounts to exploiting freedom of speech to express and to promote hatred of believers.  Read on, MacDuff !

RIDICULE : FREE PRESS OR HATE PRESS ?

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None of us likes to be accused of harboring or fomenting hate.  Am I, in this Blog, innocent in this regard ?  I have often insisted that as a militant atheist – no doubt more intense than many other atheists who were never ministers of religion as I was – I respect believers but should not be expected to respect their (crazy !) beliefs.  “Blindfaithblindfolly” is itself a war-cry, surpassed only by my mantra “Delenda Religio” (usually softened through realism to “Ridenda Religio”).

But do I instill hate against believers, against Jews, Christians and Muslims whose faith is a defining element of their personal identity ?  Do I hate them ?  I can only reply “NO !”.   People who know how much I loved my brother Jim, who lived and died a Catholic priest, who know how much I love everyone in my family, the believers, the atheists, the agnostics and the indifferent among them, would never ask the question.  I am fortunate to have a family and friends on both sides of the planet, Down Under and Up Over, who accept me as I am, who refuse to let their faith-stance or mine affect the love we share.  I know that some of them must find it hard to read the Blog, which pulls no punches in ridiculing religious beliefs, rules and rituals.  But I am confident that they all realize that my objective is not to demolish the faith of the convinced believer (an almost impossible dream) but to get Believers on the Brink to develop the doubts they already have.  Some would much prefer that I keep my atheism to myself.  But I have many times explained that as a former priest and theologian I feel I owe it to others to help them discover the myths, wishful thinking and, yes, the absurdity of most of their beliefs.

Fortunately the Law protects my freedom of speech.  My conscience, common sense and human decency prevent me from hating sincere, non-violent believers.  Honesty obliges me to admit, however, that I do hate murderous maniacs and especially religiously motivated fanatics who blindly terrorize and massacre, indifferently, innocent men, women and children – believers or not.  “Father, forgive them: they know not what they do” is beyond me.  Terrorists deserve more than ridicule.  They deserve extermination.

DELENDA      RELIGIO