” MIRACULOUS RECOVERY FOR TODDLER PROVES POWER OF PRAYER “

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The title is that of an article published by Catholic Communications, Archdiocese of Sydney, February 18, 2011. It concerns the “remarkable recovery” of three-year-old Clare, daughter of Peter Hill, who in his 20-seater bus accidentally “ran over” the youngest of his eleven (!) children on February 15, 2011, on the coast south of Sydney, trapping her under the bus’ rear-wheels.

“At one point doctors (at the Royal Children’s Hospital at Randwick) were convinced her shin had a fracture and her leg was put in plaster, but the next day the plaster was removed for treatment. The doctors were stunned : there was no sign of a break … Along with the prayer-chain that encircled the globe, (eldest son) Daniel’s family also believes the Miraculous Medal the little girl was wearing also played a part, as did the blessing and kiss she received as a one-year-old from Pope Benedict XVI during World Youth Day’s open-air Mass at Randwick in July 2008.” (Take your pick !)

An open-and-shut case, proof of the power of prayer and the magic of the Miraculous Medal ? It amazes me that believers, and even scientists who turn off their left brain, can be so blind as to miss the point here, as they do at Lourdes, Fatima and all those places of pilgrimage which attract miracle-seekers.

In “From Illusions to Illumination”, pages 172-173, under “Fast Cars and Speeding Bullets”, I ridiculed the “miracles” which saved the lives of a Formula 1 driver and a Polish Pope. In the telling of all these stories and in attributing protection and survival to the name of Pope John Paul 2 on the driver’s helmet, or the Pope’s own survival from an assassination attempt because it took place on the anniversary of one of Mary’s apparitions in Fatima, there is an irrational, unfounded, gratuitous, superstitious attribution of a supposedly divine cause to an admittedly extraordinary effect, that is literally stupefying.

Let’s go back to Sydney’s South Coast, the site of the accident. I know why she recovered : because her name was Clare, saintly consoeur of St Francis of Assisi; or because it took place on February 15 (15 being the sum of the twelve Apostles and the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity); or because the child’s father bore the name of the first Pope. Logic, rationality, to say nothing of science, demand proof of causal connection. But if people want to believe that prayer or a bit of metal become a “Precious Medal” (my nasty, sarcastic heading in my chapter on “Superstitions and Fetishes”, p. 166) is the “cause” of the “miracle”, they will. After all, it’s not much comfort to be told that we don’t know how it happened. Isn’t it obvious that the Lourdes water did it, or the Miraculous Medal did it, or those heartfelt prayers did it ? “Unexplained”, dear blind believers, does not mean “unexplainable”.

Primitive man in his cave was impressed by and terrified of thunder and lightning. He knew what, or rather who, caused it : God, who was reminding His puny, godfearing creatures of His power, or perhaps using the electricity they would never hear of to scare, and on occasion kill, his disobedient children.

I survived my heart-attack. I learned later that it was because a dear, deluded friend had been praying for me. The causal connection, for her, was clear and unquestioned, though I prefer to thank the French Emergency Ambulance service and my brilliant heart-surgeon. Take your pick.

You’re a lucky lass, Clare. But then, we’re both from the Lucky Country.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

AND THEN THERE WERE NONES !

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To the question “Religious Affiliation ?”, 22.8% of Americans now reply “None”. They are the Nones. As recently as 2007 they were only 16.1%. Catholics still have some Nuns but are outnumbered by Nones. Only 20.8% of the U.S. population identify themselves as Catholics, and 14.7% as mainline Protestants. Many former believers are now saying they have no religious affiliation at all.

We all remember the old saw that statistics are like bikinis : interesting in what they reveal, vital in what they conceal. It would, however, seem safe to say that in the States religion is in trouble. But don’t bury it just yet. Not only could there be a comeback, but Christianity is alive and thriving in Africa and South America. It’s time to get cracking on a multilingual version of the Blog.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

CREDULITY : ALIVE AND WELL

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Unlike God, credulity exists. And unlike Him, it is omnipresent. Last Sunday in Waco, Texas, famous for its wacky sect and its mass-killings, nine people were shot and eighteen wounded in a biker gang shoot-out. Police Sergeant Patrick (he’s got to be a Catholic) Swanton, when interviewed as to why even more people were not victims, replied : “It was Sunday and Somebody was lookin’ out for us”. Difficult choice indeed for the Almighty to choose who’s going to get shot and who will go shot and scot-free (which originally meant not liable to taxes). Maybe the lucky ones were carrying Miraculous Medals (which not even Opus Dei would claim will protect you from the I.R.S.).

A Sydney man who once told me that his Marian Medal saved his life in a car accident in Nowra, N.S.W., recently defended in writing the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin by quoting all the scientific “evidence”. This included “intense radiation … consistent with a resurrection event”. Though he did not tell me about the last resurrection he or anyone else witnessed, he left me wondering whether he ever googles livescience.com or whether he spends his time reading Marvel Comics.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE ARCHBISHOP OF SYDNEY

A week ago I sent the letter below to St Mary’s Cathedral, along with a copy of my book. It will, I’m sure, surprise His Grace and anyone who happens to read it. I just hope that the good Archbishop will notice at least my correction of his motto (St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, 4:15), and retain my recommendation to seek the truth (“veritatem quaerentes”) rather than imagine that his famously fallible Church has found it (“veritatem facientes”). I added a personal note on the frontispiece : “To consider the credulity on which faith is founded, ‘Tolle lege'”. I hope he takes the advice the angel gave to Saint Augustine.

Most Reverend Archbishop Anthony Fisher, D.D.
St Mary’s Cathedral
SYDNEY. N.S.W.
AUSTRALIE 10th May, 2015

Your Grace,

The enclosed book, “From Illusions to Illumination. The Itinerary of a Franciscan Priest from Catholicism to Atheism”, may surprise you, unless perhaps Bishop Geoffrey Robinson has already shown his copy to you. You will immediately recognize its author as the renegade brother of Father Jim, whose Requiem you concelebrated with Bishop Brady and Bishop Robinson and dozens of priests a few months ago. You may even remember my grandnephew Conor’s reading of the eulogy which I wrote to honour my brother, my best friend. It must have been unusual and perhaps a little uncomfortable for you to have to listen to the words of a former Franciscan priest become a militant atheist, who had once preached in what is now your Cathedral, where I had been ordained in 1961 – you were just one year old – by your famous predecessor, Norman Thomas Cardinal Gilroy.

Though not present for my brother’s funeral, I have seen the video of the Mass, a model of the expression of Christian faith, in a liturgy that was the celebration of Jim’s life and fidelity to his vocation. I join my whole family, both in Australia and France, in thanking you and your clergy, including some of my own former colleagues, for such an exemplary and moving ceremony.

If I have taken the liberty of sending you a copy of my book, it is with the hope that you will find the time to discover at least some of its content. My story is not particularly extraordinary nor are my Reflections likely to impress you – though I would hope you will find that some of these “ticklers and teasers” (continued in my Blog : blindfaithblindfolly.wordpress.com) are not devoid of a certain impish originality. They may even help you understand why a priest could check in his chasuble and why a Professor of Religious Pedagogy and Diocesan Director of Religious Education could no longer propagate the faith.

Pax et bonum nostri utroque. Veritatem quaerentes (… facientes ?) in caritate (?)

Yours respectfully,

Frank O’Meara
(olim) Father Leon O’Meara, O.F.M.

Encl. : My book

THE QUALITY OF MERCY

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OK, so we both know you had an abortion. That means automatic excommunication. Well, honey, I’ve got good news for you ! In December, just seven months from now, I have been authorized to grant you absolution. His Holiness has announced that confessors like me will be able to absolve penitents like you. Why ? Because this is a Jubilee Year, beginning December 8, so he has mercifully decided to make forgiveness available to people, women and their abortionists, who have committed a crime he once described as worse than rape. The quality of mercy, you see my dear, as Shakespeare said, is not strained, although for the Church it apparently demands a real effort.

Mercy comes with conditions, and for really terrible sins like abortion, limits. Forgiveness is limited to certain special occasions, to underline how special, how exceptional it is. After all, we can’t have people being un-excommunicated at the drop of a Cardinal’s hat, all year long ! One of those special occasions is right now, if you happen to be in the diocese of Turin, which is currently displaying, as it does every year at this time (April 19 – June 24), the Holy Shroud. The fact that this piece of cloth, supposedly used to wrap the body of Christ after His crucifixion, is a proven fraud dating from the 14th century, is immaterial. Special occasions deserve special events. Getting absolved for abortion and delivered from excommunication is about as special as it gets. Thank you, Holy Father.

Oh ! One last thing : don’t go getting yourself run over and killed before December and sent to burn in Hell for all eternity. For God’s sake be careful – and patient.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

TASTES , COLORS AND RELIGION

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The Scholastics, who were wont to argue about everything, including famously the number of angels who could fit on the head of a pin (Thom, our resident Angelologist, knows the answer), agreed that there was no point in arguing about tastes and colors : “De gustibus et coloribus non est disputandum”. But they spent their lives arguing about religion. Not as we atheists and believers do, but from within the Christian, Catholic faith they shared. The “disputatio” was their favorite sport, and they came up with at least fifty shades of grey to every subject under the sun (which, they all agreed, revolved around the earth).

“There is no accounting for tastes and colors” (the accepted translation) because preferences for both are purely personal and subjective, though one could hardly imagine anyone disagreeing, now or even in the Middle Ages, that vinegar is, objectively, as its French etymology indicates, “vin aigre”, “bitter wine”. (It has always shocked me that anyone endowed with even run-of-the-mill taste-buds could not like a classic Single Malt. But we won’t argue about that, especially as I’ve been on the wagon for half a decade.)

We not only argue about Religion. We fight 100-year wars to prove we’re right. Some people dismiss the subject as a waste of time. I spend a large part of mine trying to get Believers on the Brink to recognize how ridiculous religious belief and practice are. Why do I bother ? Because sometimes it works.

No matter how you present or disguise it, I could never and never will be able to eat Vegemite, that Australian ghastly gastronomical garbage made from yeast extract and God knows what else, that some people love so much they imagine I must find it hard to survive in France without it. And I will never, except under threat maybe of having Vegemite forced down my throat, choose to wear a shocking-pink tie. But I do think it is worth trying to get people to see not just how irrational it is to give credence to make-believe myths, meaningless rituals and crazy codes of conduct, but to get them to understand the root-causes of religious gullibility and credulity. It’s not a question of arguing with people convinced they possess divine truth. But those who have already begun to question and to doubt may be open to seeing how silly religion is. Like me, they will hopefully come to wonder how they could have been so blind for so long. Let there be light !

DELENDA RELIGIO

MOSES AND THE MYTH OF MONOTHEISM

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At least one reader of this Blog will be happy to see the title and perhaps even the content of this post (n’est-ce pas, Monsieur Laroche ?)  In fact, all I want to do is to let him and anyone else interested in the first of the three monotheisms know about recent archeological studies in Israël, and their implications for our understanding of biblical history.  Laroche will be pleased to hear that my source is an article in “Der Spiegel” – of which the French review “Books” offers a full translation in your mother-tongue (“Books”, no.65, mai 2015 – cover: “François et le Vatican”).

The books analyzed are Israel Finkelstein’s “The Forgotten Kingdom. The Archeology and History of Northern Israël”, Society of Biblical Literature, 2013, and Colin Humphrey’s “The Miracles of Exodus : A Scientist’s Discovery of the Extraordinary Natural Causes of the Biblical Stories”, Harper Collins, 2003.  Neither book has been translated into French, but the article has summarized the quintessence of their content.  Readers – or at least our friend Laroche and other French-speaking readers of this Blog – will discover that according to Professor Humphrey (University of Cambridge), Yahweh seems to have appeared in Saudi Arabia, not the Promised Land, and not in a burning bush but in a volcano !  (Of course we all know that Yahweh does not exist, and the scholars doubt very much that Moses did either.)  Professor Finkelstein, Director of the University of Tel-Aviv’s Institute of Archeology, has found fossil evidence that Jerusalem at the time was a “simple village”, that Solomon’s fabulous empire is a romantic dream, with no fossil evidence at all, to the point that in the words of the German journo “modern theological research looks like a gigantic enterprise of illusion”.  Scientific demystification is violently opposed in Israël  by conservatives who, in the words of a German-Israeli archeologist, Gunnar Lehrmann, want “to give a magnified representation of the past so as to justify current territorial claims”, notably the site of Solomon’s temple, claimed by the Arabs to belong to them.

In such a context, there is little hope of rational discussion about the origins of monotheism.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

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A PEARL OF GREAT PRICE FROM THE VATICAN CATECHISM

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The following post was originally published in my book, “From Illusions to Illumination”, page 175.  It is reprinted here in reaction to Thom’s … tongue-in-cheek comment on the previous post.

“Rome is still promoting relics, indulgences and the Rosary, ‘a resumé of the whole Gospel’, which we know to be a soporific and sophomoric mantra for the mentally retarded.  Incredibly, in a commentary on one of the pieces of iconography that adorn the text (of the Catechism), Ratzinger (future Pope Benedict XVI) explains, with a profound and incredibly original insight, in his introduction, that ‘today, more than ever, in the civilization of the image, the sacred image can express much more than the words themselves’ (Editor’s note : had he never heard the cliché “A picture is worth a thousand words” ?).  On the subject of Joos van Wassenhoven’s painting of ‘Jesus giving Communion to the Apostles’ – in the form of … wafers – we read that ‘St Thomas Aquinas had the habit, at midday, of going down to the Church, and, full of confidence and abandon (Editor’s note : and perhaps an apéritif or three ?), of placing his forehead against the tabernacle in an intimate colloquy with Jesus-Eucharist’.

“Headquarters has made it tough – embarrassing is too feeble a word – for priests and catechists in the field to make sense of what presumably is meant as an edification, if not an example, for contemporary Catholics.  How could someone as reputedly intelligent as the reigning Pontiff (Editor’s note : since retired), believe, condone, and worse, promulgate such stuff and nonsense ?”.

For readers who find my editorial notes over the top and unpardonably disrespectful, I make no excuses – except that at the time of writing the book I was far too lenient in underlining the blatant absurdity of “Jesus-Eucharist”.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

DELENDA   RELIGIO

TALKING in TONGUES AND TALKING to TONGUES !

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Readers who have read my book, “From Illusions to Illumination”, may remember that as a lay-theologian in the States I published an article in “U.S. Catholic” entitled “Pentecostalism is Not the Answer” (p.42).  In it I suggested that the Church be extremely vigilant vis-à-vis the growing Catholic Charismatic Movement.  I referred, of course, to the phenomenon of “glossolalia”, the gift of speaking in tongues, one of the “miracles” that accompanied the first Pentecost, as recorded in the New Testament, where the Apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit (but, Peter insisted, not with the spirits we call hard liquor, for the curious reason that it was only 9 o’clock in the morning !), began to speak in incomprehensible languages.  The “charism” of glossolalia is claimed to be possessed by contemporary Pentecostalists whose gibberish is translated by someone with the complementary charism of “prophecy”, allowing the less-gifted members of the congregation to hear predictable, edifying messages direct from the Holy Spirit.

Naturally I would write a very different article on the subject of such credulity and superstition today.

In my book I also speak of the theologian, an early General of the Franciscan Order, whom I had chosen as the subject of my doctoral thesis, Saint Bonaventure, and his speaking not IN tongues but TO the tongue of his confrère Saint Anthony of Padua (p.169).  I quoted from the Catholic Encyclopedia :  “When the vault in which for thirty years the Saint’s sacred body had reposed was opened, the flesh was found reduced to dust but the tongue uninjured, fresh and of a lively color.  St Bonaventure, beholding this wonder, took the tongue affectionately in his hands and kissed it, exclaiming : “O Blessed Tongue that always praised the Lord, and made others bless Him, now it is evident what great merit thou hast before God.”

One cannot but smile (or wince) at the credulity behind both these expressions of Christian faith.  They alone would justify this Blog’s mantra :

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

“PROTECTION”

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We may not be psychologists or psychiatrists but we could have a bit of fun compiling and analysing what we imagine people’s spontaneous reactions would be, hearing the word “Protection” totally devoid of context;  the way the shrinks do it but without lying on a couch.  My personal, partial list would look something like this :

–   That solid plastic shield for the testicles; the padding for shoulders and shins; maybe even a tight-fitting rubber helmet to soften blows to the skull and to avoid cauliflower ears  (Rugby-men)

–   Most of the above, with emphasis on a solid helmet and oversized shoulder-pads (Gridiron players)

–   Condoms  (Some men, many women)

–   Pills  (to avoid pregnancy as well as sea and air sickness)

–   Mosquito netting  (In the tropics)

–   Oils of all sorts  (On the beach)

–   Sunglasses  (Idem, plus behind the wheel and anywhere in Australia)

–   Hats  (Down Under and other really sunny places)

–   Insurance  (Ideally, a must for everyone)

–   Warm clothing including ear-muffs  (People who live in places with real Winters)

–   Appropriate boots  (Workmen, skiers, fire-men)

–   Backyard underground shelters  (People really uptight about Iranian, Pakistani or Russian attacks or our own nuclear plants)

–   Police  (In some countries)

The list could be much longer.

I wonder whether anyone would blurt out any of the following :

–   A Saint Christopher, or a Miraculous, Medal

–   Mary, the Mother of God, “Stella Maris” (“Star of the Sea”)

–   Poseidon  (for those who got the idea from my post “Poseidon Protège-Nous”, August 3, 2013, page 2).

Gut-reactions can be very revealing.  I know that pity is an unworthy sentiment, but I would feel sorry for anyone who would spontaneously count on some silly fetish or good-luck charm, or on a lady who died 2000 years ago, or on an imaginary pagan god to provide them with protection.  Some of the other protectors may not be very effective but the ones in the second list are dead-sure to be totally useless.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

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