MISFIT PRIESTS

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“Viri probati”.  The Pope is wondering whether to ordain as priests married deacons whom he calls “proven men” – with literally impeccable credentials, enough to reassure their superiors that they will surely merit the trust put in them as priests.  “By their fruits you will know them.”

Clearly, during the past century, many seminarians, unfit for the priesthood and unworthy of the trust given them in their ordination, slipped through the net.  I hear some readers saying to me, “People in glasshouses ?”.  OK.  So like thousands of other priests, I abandoned the priesthood, in my case seven years after my ordination.  Was I unfit for the priesthood, unworthy of the trust put in me ?  Two separate, independent questions.  My belated realization that I could make no sense of, or find any need for or justification of clerical celibacy, in no way points to my being unworthy as a priest.  I believe my impeccable sacerdotal track-record establishes that beyond a doubt.  I do admit, however, that I should myself have recognized, long before ordination, that I was not cut out for the celibate life.  I prefer to blame myself rather than my seminary professors who were clearly incompetent to make such a judgement.

The scandal of priests’ pedophilia, pederasty and hypocritical sexual behavior has at least heightened the Church’s realization of its past naïveté.  Recruiting adolescents and even pre-adolescents for the seminary was clearly an enormous mistake.  The incapacity of seminary professors to make an informed judgement of the suitability of candidates for the priesthood made reform in this domain absolutely essential.  More power to the Pope in raising the bar for giving the green light to mature, proven candidates for Holy Orders.  (The mixed metaphor hopefully underlines this overdue self-evident wisdom.)

Of course, I cannot be satisfied with, nor am I especially interested in, elevating the level of trust in Catholic clergy.  Today’s seminarians should be exposed to people like me or at least to blogs like mine.  We and ex-priest-atheists like me, as well as what some of us write, could challenge seminarians to question their understanding of the constraints of celibacy and sexual probity.  We and our testimonies of itineraries from Catholicism to atheism could help separate the chaff from the wheat.  Former colleagues will recognize here a cryptic reference to my nickname as a young Franciscan : “The Chaff” !  This unflattering moniker, born of my predilection for breakfast cereals, was perhaps a divinely inspired but overlooked clue that I should never have been ordained.  But, curiously, I am glad I was, glad I went the whole hog in my Catholic faith.  It gave me an understanding of, even a sympathy for, priests less lucky than I, still stuck in a meaningless profession and still prisoners of the illusions and credulity of their blindfaithblindfolly.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

A FORK IN THE ROAD

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A good friend and former business colleague of mine was once a captain of industry and Chief Executive of a French company with one thousand employees and an annual revenue of one billion euros.  When he turned fifty he found himself at a fork in his professional career.  He had always been fascinated by the Law and had a lingering frustration that as a young man he had chosen to study Aeronautical Engineering and had become a businessman rather than a barrister.  He decided it was not too late to fulfill his dream.  He entered Law School with students half his age and is today a successful attorney whose experience in the world of business has given him a unique skill-set in his new profession.

He tells his story in a remarkable video which ends with his quotation from Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” :  “Yes, there are two paths you can go by.  But in the long run there’s still time to change the road you’re on”.  He will, I hope, excuse me for plagiarizing his reference and applying it to myself – and to others who are still priests, wondering whether it is too late for them to dare to find freedom and fulfillment as laymen, as well as to Believers on the Brink, hesitating to espouse the atheism they recognize in themselves.

François and I decided there was still time for us to change the road we were on.  I left the priesthood at 31 and “came out” as an atheist at 41.  François was 50 when he courageously took the risk of starting from scratch in a totally new career.

For my former Franciscan confreres, like me now in their eighties, it is clearly too late to abandon their religious order and the priesthood.  But it is never too late for them and for non-clerics, however old they are, to abandon the faith which they know is founded on fiction.  There is “still time” – but it is running out.  Carpe diem, my friends.  François and I did, and so can you.  Yes, you CAN !

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

“REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM”

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Humor can be subtle and sophisticated, as exemplified by Oscar Wilde, or vulgar and lowbrow as on “Saturday Night Live”.  The absurd, as seen in Chaplin and Keaton, Monty Python and Terry Gilliam movies, tickles our funny-bone and makes us laugh.  In his signature slapstick comedies, we love to see Charlie dodging the blows of the burly bully and kicking him in the pants, we guffaw at John Cleese in “The Ministry of Silly Walks” and with his Monty Men riding invisible horses in their search for the Holy Grail, and we manage to smile at Christoph Walz’s royal plural and absurd credulity in Gilliam’s “Zero Theorem”.  We appreciate Woody Allen’s wisecracks and characters in his movies like “Whatever Works” and its near-Nobel obsessed hand-washer.  Sometimes, as in Hitler’s harangues, the absurd is not funny at all, until the orator is incarnated by Chaplin in “The Great Dictator”.  We love the Theatre of the Absurd, because it succeeds in making us both laugh and think.  It is remarkable, however, that so many people fail to recognize the absurdity of their religious beliefs and practices.

In his discussion of money as a “universal medium of exchange”, Yuval Hariri, whose book “Sapiens” has already several times been quoted in this Blog, writes : “It is even possible to convert sex into salvation, as 15th century prostitutes did when they slept with men for money, which they then used to buy indulgences from the Catholic Church”.  The claim is outrageous but credible, although unlikely to be appreciated, let alone considered amusing, by fervent Catholics.  As believers they cannot recognize or admit the absurdity of so many of their beliefs and so much of their religious practice.  If only they would step back a moment, take five and examine objectively dogmas and devotions like the following :

  • Jesus,  having walked on water, restored sight to the blind and raised the dead, Himself rises from His tomb three days after being crucified.  St Paul himself recognized the “folly of the Cross” and the absurdity of believing in the Resurrection
  • Catholics proclaim out loud that they believe that the wafer they are about to swallow at Holy Communion is in reality “the body of Christ”
  • God plunges his sinful children into Hell, but has appointed priests to pardon lucky Catholics in the Sacrament of Penance
  • Overlooking God’s apparent indifference to, or at least failure to intervene in response to, prayers of the faithful, believers continue to accept Jesus’ hollow “Ask and you shall receive”
  • Ignoring the reason behind their wishful thinking, believers continue to believe in an after-life for themselves and their loved ones

Some theologians have seriously suggested that absurdity is itself a reason for believing : “Credo quia absurdum”, “I believe BECAUSE it is absurd” !  It would be funny, were it not so . . . absurd.

P.S.   You might like to re-read several earlier posts on this theme :  “Sticks and Stones” (August 3, 2013), “You Still Believe That Stuff ?” (December 20, 2013), “To Argue or To Sneer ?” (July 24, 2014), “Don’t  Just Sit There !” (August 28, 2014), and “The Final Solution To Terrorism : A Muslim Holocaust” (November 15, 2015).

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

IN TRUMP WE TRUST ?

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Our personal histories, like History itself, are full of examples of misplaced trust.  Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, trusted “Herr Hitler”.  Native Americans thought they could trust the treaties signed by the white invaders.  Americans thought they could trust Richard Nixon but Watergate proved that he was a crook after all.  It remains to be seen whether the people who voted for Trump will continue to trust him.

You and I trusted that salesman who turned out to be a “confidence man”.  Parents think they can trust their children but are sometimes sadly disappointed.  Parishioners presume they can trust their priests, but too often discover that the “men of God” to whom they had entrusted their children had criminally, sexually, betrayed that trust.

Often we are obliged to trust without solid reasons for doing so, but without trust society cannot function.  Paper money is itself worthless.  Its value comes from the trust that people put into it as recognized, legal tender; Hariri in “Sapiens” said that “money is the most universal and the most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised”.  We are fortunate indeed if everyone in our family and our closest friends are genuinely trust-worthy.  Do they all trust us ?

Dwight Eisenhower added to the quotations on the dollar-bill a statement he hoped all Americans believed : “In God we trust”.  It was self-evident to him and to the majority of his compatriots, who never question whether such trust is justified.  If we have learned from experience to be prudent in trusting our fellowman, and parsimonious in according our trust to people who have not already proven they deserve that trust, it makes sense to me to ask why we should trust God.  For the atheist, the question is, of course, meaningless.  But for the atheist it remains a mystery as to how believers, for whom His existence  is beyond question, can so readily and automatically put their trust in Him.

On the face of it, if God is in fact the God of love and justice in whom they profess to believe, if they not only believe that God exists but proclaim that they believe IN Him (“Credo IN unum deum”), one would expect that they have learned from experience that He can be trusted.  For many, the “experience” is, at best, vicarious, not personal.  OTHER people claim to have had their prayers answered, their illness cured, their financial burdens lightened, their ambitions for themselves and their children realized.  Many are less fortunate and have to resign themselves to not having their prayers answered and their legitimate needs and desires met.  And yet they continue to trust a God so absent and apparently indifferent that atheists consider the only explanation is that He does not exist, except in the fantasies and wishful thinking of the believer.  The supreme mystery for the atheist is to understand how believers can trust what their holy books tell them about the afterlife promised them when they die.  In spite of dungeon, fire, sword and often excruciating, lengthy terminal illness – and a total lack of evidence – believers allow themselves to be conned into the least trustworthy of religious illusions : pie in the sky when you die.  This is blind, irrational trust, blind faith and blind folly.

RIDENDA       RELIGIO

A FULL LIFE ?

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“Oh my name is Frank O’Meara

And from Sydney I did come.

I taught the French to learn to speak

My Australian native tongue.”

My eulogist is unlikely to list this as one of my most remarkable achievements.  It’s true that I was thoroughly committed to making France anglophone and even to teaching the French to pronounce the word “thoroughly”.  But this was a side-line.  With four score behind me and (far) less than one ahead of me, what, I ask myself, have I accomplished, what difference did I make, what contribution did I make to the stock of human knowledge and to the well-being of my fellow-travelers ?

Some people blow their own Trump-et.  The Donald never heard of Bobby Burns (and if he did he probably thinks he was a boxer) and his “Would that we could see ourselves as others see us”.  It doesn’t matter a ratz what I think I have achieved.  But I do wonder whether anything I have done – or written – will be appreciated or even remembered by at least a few of my contemporaries (that would be miracle enough, without talking about future generations !).  I guess we all need to make sense of our  lives, to believe that we left the world better than it was when we entered it.  Few can make that boast.  But instead of trying – absurdly – to pat myself on the back, let me share a few of the regrets I have, now that I have entered the Autumn of my years.

  1.  I would love to have had the intelligence of Hitchens, the talent of Pavarotti and the humility of Federer.
  2.  I would love to have published half a dozen books that brought enlightenment and liberation to believers.
  3. I would love to have been a better son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, friend, colleague and blogger.

That’s about it.  What I do NOT regret is having been a Franciscan and a Catholic priest (nor, obviously, having renounced both of these meaningless states of life), though I do regret having taken so long to become an atheist.  Apart from that, I realize that though my life, compared with so many others, has been largely insignificant, I have loved living it and enjoying it for so long and with such luck.  I could and should have been a better person.  I got more than I gave.  But, as lives go, mine was a bitta aw rye (I do NOT regret having been born Australian).

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

SWEET SIXTEENS

Sixteen years ago, when I turned sixty-four, I realized my life was divided into four sixteens.  Now at eighty I’ve added one more, which makes five.  I can’t imagine number six, which would make me just four short of a century.  THAT probably means not firing on all cylinders, both physical and mental, deafness, incontinence, recurring if not constant pain, and the increasing dependence of a Grumpy Old Man.

Then again, in the Beatles’ song which I rewrote, “Now I’m 64”, I actually said that I looked forward to “sixty-four more”!  In fact, I didn’t expect to hit even four-score.  As the man said as he shot past the 23rd floor on his way down from the top of the  Empire State, having already passed eighty stories : “So far, so good !”

Death is the ultimate, and ultimately personal, experience of Everyman, the end of life and of its least attractive feature, old age.  Most people don’t joke about it.  You can try to ignore it, do your best to postpone it, but it’s going to happen so why not look it in the face, accept it and get on with the rest of your life ?  If you insist on believing in a life after death, and find comfort and meaning in that, that’s your choice.  I prefer “That’s All, Folks “.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

 

ATHEISM IS A NO-BRAINER

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Believers would not only disagree but insist that belief in God is so obviously necessary to explain creation that IT is a no-brainer.  This is the perfect formula for a dialogue of the deaf.  Reconciling the contradictory points of view in mutual acceptance of both alternatives, is patently impossible (except perhaps for Kellyanne Conway or Donald Trump).  Curiously, however, on rare occasions, people on both sides of the question of religious faith somehow succeed in winning over the opposition to their point of view.  I, for example, was once a believer but am now a militant  atheist, challenged as an apostate to defend my rejection of faith and espousal of atheism.  No one, in fact, “won me over”.  I was just lucky enough to find myself in circumstances conducive to critical thinking, and made my own decision.  I now see where my faith came from (environment and brainwashing) and try to get believers (on the brink) to discover where theirs came from – and to draw the obvious conclusion.

Most people prefer to overlook the origin of their faith.  No one is born a believer.  During our first years we are a “tabula rasa” – a clean slate.  People in our environment very quickly begin brainwashing us, giving us an outlook, attitudes, habits, ways of thinking – and believing – that we immediately absorb and which most people will continue to possess for the rest of their lives.  They grow up Muslim or Jewish, Catholic or Protestant, Agnostic or Atheist, and frequently stay that way.

Increasingly, however, notably over the last fifty years, Christianity and, in particular, Catholicism, have seen their adherents “lapse” into indifference or even opposition.  They may, for family or social, professional or political reasons, keep up the appearances, but in fact they have abandoned the faith.  They may mouth the responses and sing the hymns, but at a funeral they know that the “faithful departed” no longer exist.  “May s/he rest in peace” is as hollow for them as the promise of Paradise and the horrors of Hell.

Most people, for whom atheism is indeed a no-brainer, do not make waves or, even less, try to make converts of people who think that belief is a no-brainer.  It makes for a certain peace of mind and social rapport – superficial, perhaps, but in their eyes preferable to the damage done by sterile controversy.  My choice, on the contrary, has been to rock the boat, to question credulity and even to promote ridicule, vis-à-vis the fragile foundations of faith.  Atheism is, for someone like me, brainwashed into faith, a liberation.  I, for one, though I do not thank God Almighty for it, rejoice in being free, free at last, from risible religion.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

 

OUT OF THIS WORLD

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Every now and again I learn something new about the Universe.  Most of the time we hardly ever give a thought to a mystery and a reality comparable only to the mystery and reality of life.  We are reminded of the latter all the time : a new baby in the family, a relative who dies, even the birth of kittens and puppies and the fading of flowers.  Life and death are ever present, visible realities.  The night-sky, the moon, the stars and planets we cannot even identify, just about exhaust what we experience of the Universe.  Lest I forget, I keep reminding myself of the facts and try to keep up with the latest discoveries :

  1.  Our Solar System has eight (or nine) planets spinning around the Sun : Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune (and perhaps Pluto).  But the galaxy which is ours, the Milky Way, contains 300, 000, 000,000 such Suns or stars.  And the Milky Way is just one galaxy among another 2,000, 000, 000, 000 in the Universe.  That means that there are probably as many as 600, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 stars in the Universe and as least as many planets.
  2. The Milky Way is 100,000 light-years wide.  Almost in our backyard, at 39 light-years, a star has recently been discovered and baptized “Trappist 1”.  It has seven planets, which we in our little solar system call exoplanets.  Twenty years ago we did not know exoplanets existed.  The only planets we knew were our own eight or nine.  Today we have identified 5000 of them !  And it would seem that three of Trappist 1’s  planets are likely one day to be shown to possess the conditions necessary for life.

Statistics like these may blow our minds, but at the end of the day moving forward, we battle on, preoccupied with surviving and if possible enjoying life, and never give the Universe a thought.  But it is THERE, and its very existence has always made people wonder WHY it is there.  Religions have a ready, facile answer in the form of creation myths of all sorts.  But it’s pretty hard to believe that any of the multitude of “gods” we have created in the Middle East, in Africa or in the jungles of South America or New Guinea, had anything to do with the “Big Bang”.  Rationalists suggest that the Universe has neither a Creator nor a purpose.  It just IS.

We are at the dawn of an age of discovery of the Universe and of exploration of our own puny – enormous ! – solar system.  Rather than regret that I won’t be around to enjoy either, I am happy to have come onto the scene when mankind is discovering just how astronomically vast and challenging our world is.  I have enjoyed the Preface, but I will never read the chapters soon to be written in “Great Leaps for Mankind”.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

GOD’S MINISTERS IN MOVIES

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Ministers of religion, Catholic priests, Anglican and Protestant clergymen and women, Jewish rabbis, have all played important and often leading rôles in many films.  This is especially true of Catholic priests.  Most of my readers are too young to remember the highly popular Father Chuck O’Malley, gifted with both good looks and a remarkable talent as a crooner …, played by Bing Crosby in “Going My Way” and “The Bells of St Mary’s”.  Those were the days – the forties – when priests were idealized (at least by Catholics) as suburban saints, civic heroes and selfless builders of bridges between people and between people and God.  Later Father Ralph de Bricassart (Richard Chamberlain) in “The Thorn Birds” broke new ground in the story of a priest sorely tried by his celibacy, to which he returned after a love-affair which he never really relinquished, but which did not prevent him from becoming a Cardinal.

Then there have been the charming, eccentric, whimsical priests like the ones played by Barry O’Sullivan, as well as other famous celluloid priests like the medieval Franciscan Sherlock Holmes (Sean Connery) in “The Name of the Rose”, the admirable, courageous Irish priest, played by Trevor Howard, in “Ryan’s Daughter” (see our post “Ryan’s Parish Priest”, September 30, 2013), the totally credible, exemplary Irish priest in “Brooklyn”, played by a real priest, along with “Friar Fuck” in “Sex and the City” and Father Damien Karras in the horror movie “The Exorcist”.

More recently we have been treated to a veritable “Paporama” – movies about Popes.  After Jeremy Irons in “The Borgia”, playing the rôle of the infamous Alexander VI, after Costa-Gavras’ “Amen”, the account of the failure of Pius XII to denounce explicitly the Shoah, after Anthony Quinn’s 1968 portrayal of a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Cardinal who became Pope Kyril, a charismatic man of peace who succeeds in imposing non-aggression on Russia, China and the U.S. (!), after French actor Michel Piccoli in “Habemus Papam”, the story of the Pope who chickened out of the Papacy, we have had the ground-breaking portrayal by Jude Law of “The Young Pope”, already alluded to in an earlier post (December 12, 2016).  Now we can look forward to “Popess Joan”, who never existed except in an 11th century legend which gave rise to another legend about verifying that the Cardinal elected Pope is physically equipped for the job (?).  “Habet duas et bene pendentes” is the supposedly final vetting step before the white smoke.

Anglican, Protestant and Jewish clergy are far less present on the silver screen.  Three of the most remarkable : Robert Mitchum as the murderous minister in “The Night of the Hunter”, Robert Duvall as “The Apostle” (1998), another murderous, if less psychotic, minister, and the Reverend Jesse Custer in the recent TV series “Preacher” – an outrageous, over-the-top, surrealistic dramatic comedy, based on “graphic novels” (comic-books !), that must have scandalized every living soul in the Bible Belt.

The clergy are very public figures.  As a caste, they seem to be the subjects of all kinds of movies, far more than, say, heroic, dedicated doctors, courageous lawyers or humanist engineers. Priests in particular can become icons inside and outside the Church, heroes of humanity even, like the Abbé Pierre, founder of the Ragpickers and the NGO Emmaüs, dedicated to providing housing, work and dignity to homeless men, whose story is told in “L’Hiver de 1954” (“The Winter of 1954”).

Much is expected of Men of God.  A stain on a priest’s alb is far more visible than one on a businessman’s suit.  Pederasty is not only a crime but in a priest the ultimate abomination, a sacrilegious betrayal of trust.

An ex-priest like myself cannot but pity his former, faithful, confreres, stuck in a rôle which many of them find the equivalent of a straight-jacket.  They should not allow themselves to continue to be prisoners of the expectations of their flocks.  Like all of us they get just one crack at life, which if it were a movie would have no re-runs.  Carpe diem, Father, while there is still time, before your life-film reaches “The End”.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

SITTIN’ ON THE DECK OF THE BAY

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Otis Redding’s famous  ballad was written in a boat (not on the dock) just before he died and was published posthumously.  I have no intention of croaking any time soon, and what I’m writing here On Zeee Beeech in S-W France, will be published prehumously.  I could not, however, resist the comparison.  I once lived in a modest house in Sydney, a maid’s tiny flat when I was Down and Out in Paris, in beautiful, mortgaged homes in two of the United States, and, for ten years, in a luxuriously restored French Château, when I was a Director of a multinational’s corporate University.  But my favorite place is here, on the deck of my beach-house overlooking the Atlantic and the Bay of Biscay.  Hard to beat.

Here I have time to think, time to remember, time to be grateful to my family and many others for making my life, careers and comfortable retirement so enjoyable.  Time, above all, to write, usually serious stuff, sometimes frivolous froth like this.  Thanks for bothering to read it and the other 575 thought-bubbles already posted.

      VIVA     LA     VITA  !