REALITY CHECK

Both CNN and the BBC frequently offer their viewers this invaluable service to counter the flood of fake news most of us would otherwise swallow. Often we have to recognize that we were ourselves duped by news-reports presumed to be accurate, that were in fact as false as Trump’s countless lies.

Prior to the appearance of Homo Sapiens some two to three hundred thousand years ago (“yesterday” in cosmic terms), our ancestors had no free will. They sought nourishment from the first moment of their existence and devoted their lives to finding and consuming food, often risking their lives in the fierce challenge and competition this entailed. When they matured, their other vital imperious impulse was to reproduce themselves. Their own survival and that of their species were their raison d’être.

When the first humans appeared, they had the unique distinction of being able to think, to reason, to choose. Beyond the need for nourishment and procreation, they now felt other needs : to improve the ways of ensuring not only their survival but their … standard of living (their discovery of fire is a significant example). Some of them became self-proclaimed “experts”, shamans, gurus, believed to be endowed with special knowledge and powers and the authority given them by the divinities they had imagined. This gullibility of Homo Sapiens has survived up to our own time, in spite of the proven contradictions which Science never ceases to provide.

Religious credulity is alive and well, notwithstanding the “Reality Checks” of scientific and historical research which should have already demolished superstitions, wishful thinking, religious institutions, dogmas and rituals. This blog, itself a sort of on-going Reality Check, will continue as best it can to invite its readers to abandon their illusions in favor of the illumination offered by the rational analysis of reality.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

CATHOLIC WOMEN PRIESTS ?

Once again THOM has kindly offered us a guest-post, but one that invites discussion that would seem to concern only non-atheists. Fair enough; our blog’s target-audience is Believers on the Brink, not-yet-atheists by definition. In fact, all of us, believers and non-believers (in particular ex-Catholics) will have an opinion about whether or not ordaining women would be good – for YOUR cause, whatever it is. Thanks Thom.

P.S. Google “Anglican women-priests” for a lengthy article about their ordination in the Anglican Communion since the 70s.

“The A.B.C. (Australian Broadcasting Commission) recently had a very interesting program on recent ructions in Thailand about the ordination of women monks. You might wonder why this is relevant. Well, it seems that the exclusion of women from the higher echelons of the Buddhist priesthood has very similar parallels to the position of women in the Catholic Church. Some women in Thailand have grasped the nettle and have ordained themselves as Buddhist monks – much to the dismay and alarm of their conservative male colleagues who do not accept that women can be ordained as Buddhist monks.

“I feel sure that many intelligent Catholic women who see the program will understand that they can challenge the Catholic Church’s position in a similar fashion. All it requires is a sympathetic Bishop or Bishops (and I believe there would be many), and a group of radical feminist women (and again I suspect that there would be no shortage of members) and the stage is set for a new era in the Catholic Church.”

THE POWER OF ENTHUSIASM

Words can inform; eloquence can inspire. Words can confuse; eloquence can convince. Words can enlighten; eloquence can enthuse. One man’s “I have a dream … ” moved millions. Another’s “We will fight them on the beaches … ” instilled courage in a whole nation facing fascist domination. Enthusiasm is the spark that can enflame multitudes in domains as different as sport, politics and religion. It is inebriating, exhilarating, unifying, and when a crowd of enthusiasts becomes a mob, virtually uncontrolable. The January 6, 2020 Storming of the Capitol is a recent, unforgetable (and unforgiveable) example.

The word “enthusiasm” itself reveals its true nature. “Thus” is a deformation of “Theos”, the Greek word for God (“Theology” : a discourse (“logos”) about God). The enthusiast seems to be possessed by a divine force, and his convictions rapidly become contagious. His credibility is often reinforced by his “gift of the gab”, his eloquence, his mastery of language and his oratorical and theatrical skills. The world’s religions all began with the fantasies of a gifted guru and the credulity of the masses. Too many of us have been victims of the enthusiasm and eloquence of a man on a soap-box, a campaign daïs or a parish pulpit.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

” DEPLORABLE EVIL “

Pope Francis’ apology to the Canadian Indian tribes was too little too late. “Sorry” – which took so long for Australia, and its Catholic aboriginal “orphanages”, to say for its genocide of the country’s original owners – does not cut the mustard. Better than total silence, perhaps, but in our own time the outrageous, world-wide evil of clerical pederasty revealed that there is something rotten, a still active cancer, in the State of the Vatican, H.Q. of the world’s largest multinational, and throughout the Catholic Church.

The present Pontiff is loved the world over. Catholics would never dream that he or their parish priest could ever be guilty of the crimes that put so many of their confreres in jail. The scandals, they feel, are behind us. Wishful thinking at best. But the clergy continues, usually innocently because they themselves were brainwashed, to exploit the credulity of their flock (!) – and to brainwash children. They may not all be monsters, but they are as blind as their gullible congregations.

I imagine that sometimes practising Catholics stumble on this blog and satisfy their curiosity by reading some of its posts, including this one. If any of the posts intrigued you or began to raise some doubts in your mind, you would do well to share them – the posts and your doubts – with a priest you can trust. If he is content to vilify me as a black sheep with a chip on my shoulder (tell him that that would be an “argumentum ad hominem”), or trot out predictable, unconvincing responses, you know what your reaction should be.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

ONE – OF – A – KIND

We like to think we are special (even after five other babies, my parents thought so; actually I was : I weighed in at ten pounds !). We may even think we are unique. Our fingerprints are. Apart from that, honesty should oblige us to admit that we are not. I may have tickets on myself and regularly let people know about my supposedly unique accomplishments, until they discreetly inform me – with examples – that it ain’t necessarily so. Well, I have just discovered, thanks to the paramedical technician testing me for hearing-aids that I – in fact, all of us – have another unique feature : the configuration of our ears ! Identification of suspected criminals can be, and has been, facilitated by this phenomenon, which is less subject than fingerprints to alteration.

Having made your day with this illuminating revelation, I acknowledge the fact that most of us are nobodies, or, at best, also-rans, ordinary Joes and Janes, John or Dorothy Does. But we are not indistinguishable, fungible members of a herd of cattle. Whether or not anything we say or do gets reported in the media, every person – at least from the age of fetal viability (ability to live outside the womb), i.e. six months – has an inviolable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Being human makes us special, even if our lives resemble those of billions of others. Our potential, our life-experiences and Lady Luck together make us one-of-a-kind. Even me. I am the only former Catholic priest and professor of Theology on the planet to write an atheist blog. Whatever it is worth, it, like its author, is unique. Meantime, where else could you read a post like this ?

RIDENDA RELIGIO

BREAKING THE CHAINS

Faith is said to be able to move mountains, but the Moon really does move the oceans. We know that the first statement is fantasy, the second fact. It is mind-blowing that so many people still accept the preposterous claims of the world’s religions, and that some even question the certitudes established by Science. We can ignore the latter (flat-earthers, young-earthers and the like) : they are suffering from terminal self-delusion. But the former, otherwise intelligent non-atheists, can be convinced that they have been brainwashed since childhood, and shown that their beliefs are devoid of evidence. Sometimes – often – believers discover themselves how childishly credulous they have been, and abandon entirely religious belief and practice. Self-converted to atheism, some of them – rare birds – become militant . . . and even authors of atheist blogs.

Long-time readers of this blog know my story. Others can discover it in the archives of this blog, by consulting the first three autobiographical chapters in my book (“From Illusions to Illumination. The Itinerary of a Franciscan Priest from Catholicism to Atheism”), reprinted in the posts September 27 through October 26, 2015.

Some may wonder why, at age 85, I have spent the last ten years writing the 1218 posts already published, to which I add two new posts every week. What’s in it for me ? Clearly, neither fortune nor fame, just the satisfaction that I am still able to share what liberated me from credulity, in the hope that others also shake off and shatter the shackles of faith.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

ADMITTING PERSONAL INSIGNIFICANCE

At least 99.99% of people on this planet leave no significant accomplishments behind them and, frankly, beyond their own immediate family entourage, any reason to be remembered. Depending on the degree of our humility and clairvoyance, we should recognize that what we did, what we said, what we may have written, discovered, built or invented, does not deserve recording as part of human history. If fame were defined as the result of having done something, good or bad, worthy of being remembered by at least 30,000 people (the accepted standard), I personally would be forced to admit that I am destined to be one of the billions of history’s nobodies.

So what ? While we are alive, most of us are not indifferent to the opinion, preferably positive, of others about us. For some psychopaths like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and, to a lesser degree, Mohamed Ali, fame and adulation are their raison d’être. But when they are dead and gone, they will not get any satisfaction in having being – or still being – famous. Some famous people are despised before, but also after, their death. You know who they are. We will never forget or forgive the infamous for the evil they did.

We try hard to keep the memory of heroes’ exploits alive. Memorials are constructed and rituals performed annually – Lest We Forget – not only for the medal-winners, the true heroes, but for the millions of voluntary or conscripted soldiers who were, for example, simply the cannon-fodder of World Wars 1 and 2.

All of this leads us to wonder what, after all, is the point and purpose of our lives. Certainly not to be famous. Religions suggest (insist !) it is to live in such a way that we deserve an eternal reward in an “after-life” (“Pie in the sky when we croak”). Rational people dismiss this nonsense. They recognize life for what it is – an opportunity to develop their potential, however great or small, to make the most of the opportunities their life, however long or short, offers them, and, as far as they can, to help their loved ones – and, if possible, others – to do the same.

P.S. A friend I have known for 75 years has just sent me an e-mail in reaction to my recent post “Man-aging Aging”. As he did not opt for submitting it as a comment for all to read, I am offering it to you here. He has never sought to be famous, but he will be remembered by many for his attributes and accomplishments. Apparently feeling that my reflection on “the discomforts of aging” and my “I have no right to complain” were not sufficiently upbeat, he offered the following gentle rebuke and rock-solid wisdom : “It’s not all bad. Think of the great experiences and joys of having known so many great people, and having kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. Love life and love living.”

RIDENDA RELIGIO

” . . . AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US “

“I wanted to strike where it hurt the most”. On July 22, 2011, after killing eight people by exploding a bomb near the Prime Minister’s office in Oslo, Anders Breivik, dressed as a police officer, gunned down and killed 69 adolescents and young adults and wounded 200 others on the island of Utoya. Are the parents of the victims expected to forgive him ? The neo-Nazi, self-described as a Knight Templar (!) and dedicated to ridding Norway of foreigners, notably Muslims, was examined by psychiatrists and declared sane, before being sentenced to 21 renewable years of solitary confinement. This is but another example of gratuitous terrorism, deliberate murder and mass-killing.

Christians ask God to forgive their sins, just as they themselves forgive those who have done them harm. They foolishly challenge God to be as indulgent, as merciful, as forgiving, as they are ! They shoot themselves in the foot every time they recite the “Our Father”.

More recently, the late particularly – if not psychotically – pious Polish Pope, who declared that he had literally fallen in love with a widow who died 2000 years ago (he told her he was “totus tuus” “all yours”), has become the model for Catholics for his unimaginable feat of forgiving his would-be murderer. It is no doubt one of the reasons they now call him Saint John Paul. The rest of us have to wonder about his sanity – as we are forced to wonder about that of the Author of the “Our Father”.

There are some crimes we can never forget or forgive. The Oslo massacre, fueled by xenophobic racism, is in the same category as those of Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz and the many other death-camps of the Holocaust.

Lethal vengeance is a crime. Capital punishment is inhuman. Life-long solitary confinement is the maximum penalty for the most heinous of crimes. Universal forgiveness is a pipe-dream, the unreachable star.

P.S. To sum up this ultra-serious post with a lighter touch, you might recall a quotation from Quino, the celebrated Argentinian cartoonist : “If someone strikes you on the left cheek, start taking karate lessons”.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

MAN – AGING AGING

My cousin Mary died when she was 14. My uncle Frank died when he was 21. My father died when he was 84 – and here I am already 85 ! I have been spoiled, not only to have lived so long, but to continue to enjoy life without many of the discomforts, deprivations, dependence, pain and problems of so many others my age. I will not bore you with a detailed report on my (relative) physical and mental health, nor on my material circumstances. Enough to say that I have been truly lucky. For the nonce . . .

I cannot, however, be indifferent to the inevitable inconveniences of aging. Recently friends have advised me to install a lift (elevator) in my beach-house to avoid the challenge of stairs – a mere 13 steps (“13 Steps”, the title of George Edwards’ 1980 movie . . . ).

Many things will necessarily change in my everyday living in the coming years, if not months (like the hearing-aid I am about to have inserted). So far so good, but dependence in its many forms is not a welcome perspective. I have no right to complain. However I do hope I never become a burden for my children; I will do my best to make sure I don’t. As for dying, I have for decades learned to accept it without fear, given the liberating atheism I have enjoyed for fully half of my life.

P.S. I can’t resist sharing this with you. Reza Aslan, in a article, “Has Science Made Religion Useless ?”, wrote : “Religion has been part of the human experience from the beginning. There must be some evolutionary reason for it. There must be a reason, some adaptive advantage to having religious experience or faith experience. Otherwise it wouldn’t exist.”

This highly questionable claim is the prelude to establishing the existence of God. How ’bout we replace, in his last sentence, “religious experience or faith experience”, with “criminal experience” or “criminal streak”, evident in human behavior from the beginning (remember what Cain did to Abel ?). Finally ! An explanation of the origin of crime : its “adaptive advantage” in humankind’s evolution ! Just saying . . .

RIDENDA RELIGIO

” SANCTE WOTSISNAME , ORA PRO NOBIS ” !

Sixty years later, I am still embarrassed to have to admit that I led large congregations in chanting the Litany of the Saints, invoking the prayers of people who, by definition, were at best dead, and the very existence of whom was as unlikely as that of the gentleman in the title of this post. I myself must admit that I knew next to nothing about the lives of most of them, and precious little about the others.

A Saint, highly popular in Catholic piety, Saint Anne, has churches named after her and even pilgrimages in France in her honor. Tradition holds that she was the mother of the Virgin Mary, the wife of a certain improbable Saint Joachim, and therefore Jesus’ grandma. We know zilch about her, though legends abound. All we know is that Mary had a mother who may have had the name “Anne”. All this bothered no one as we chanted together the mesmerizing “Ora pro nobis”. But we should take a moment here to reflect on what this pious practice implied.

First off, it implicitly reinforced belief in the “after-life” : Anne – and Wotsisname – are alive and well and enjoying their eternal reward. But it’s worse than that. The “Pray for us” explicitly expresses the conviction that (so long as we sing the Litany loudly enough) that these Saints can be motivated to intercede for us with Jesus, sitting there at the right hand of His Dad. We have nothing to offer in return, but will never forget them for helping us find a job or pass that exam or for assuring the recovery of our sick son or daughter.

As examples of childish credulity, all that is bad enough. But this cozying up to Saints also implies that God would remain indifferent to our long unemployment or academic challenges or even the health and survival of our offspring – unless a certified, canonized Saint put in a word for us.

Seriously, what sort of a God do non-atheists believe in ? He’s clearly no better than those powerful people who deign to accord or refuse us favors, so long as some influential go-between intervenes for us. Such a belief is not only degrading but absurd.

RIDENDA RELIGIO