WHY BE SIMPLE WHEN YOU CAN BE COMPLICATED ?

To be a credible interlocutor in the debate about the existence of God, one should have more than a passing acquaintance with the literature.  I have read some, much, of it.  But even my knowledge of the pros and cons leaves me with a troubling impression that many, on both sides, have missed the point.

Why – on God’s earth (or on anyone else’s) – would Someone intelligent and powerful enough to create a Universe and creatures like us, have bothered to take so long about it ?  I mean why take 13.8 billion years before getting around, 200,000 years ago, to creating Homo Sapiens, as a kind of after-thought ?  Why such a long, arduous process of evolution ?  Oh, O.K. !  So that’s what’s wrong with Darwin !  The world is in fact less than 6000 years old !  God created the world in six days (remembering to put the fossils in the rocks from the beginning) and crowned a busy week by creating fully developed human beings.

Am I shooting myself in my theological foot ?  I think not.  In the seminary we used to call this a “reductio ad absurdum” (“reduction to the absurd”).  If you do not get the point, I’m sorry, I can’t help you.

RIDENDA       RELIGIO 

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” THE DEVIL’S CHAPLAIN “

No, the sobriquet does not refer to a certain former Franciscan priest and his itinerary from Catholicism to atheism.  It is the title Charles Darwin gave to himself when he considered the pain his ideas on the origin of species was causing his pious wife.  But Darwin felt he had to pursue his thinking, share his research, publish or perish — intellectually and morally.

I could have kept my reflections and these posts to myself.  They will disappoint, embarrass, disturb, infuriate some readers.  They will perhaps enlighten and encourage, even delight, a few.  They will certainly hurt many others.  Will they do more harm than good ?  God knows, as I used to say.  The decision to publish my atheistic “coming out” was not an easy one.  Pandora’s box, a can of worms ?  A perfect way to lose friends and alienate people ?  Or an honest attempt to invite believers to examine the foundations of their faith, as I did ?  Some readers will reject my reflections out of hand.  Others may even condemn my book without having read it.  You CAN tell my book by its cover (and its illustration, a road leading from darkness to light) or at least by its title (“From Illusions to Illumination”), and, in this case, by its sub-title (“The Itinerary of a Franciscan Priest from Catholicism to Atheism”).  Many will never forgive me for having written it.  Others, I hope, will find in it food for … reflection.  Some may even discover questions they have never asked themselves, or for which they thought they had satisfactory answers.  I hope that all who do me the honor of reading the book and/or this blog will find them worth their time and thought, as painful as it may be for some.  But their author does not want to be either the Devil’s Advocate or his Chaplain.  The Devil, like everything else in the realm of faith, is a myth.  I am not.  I am a down-to-earth former believer dedicated to helping others to see the light that has liberated me from the myths that even Mrs Darwin could not abandon.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

“MEA CULPA , MEA MAXIMA CULPA” (“Through my fault, through my most grievous fault”)

This Blog and its author owe a lot to Charles Darwin.  We all do, whether we have read “The Origin of Species” or not.  Evolution – which, until recently, was called a theory – is an established, undeniable, scientific fact that has transformed the way we understand the world of the living, including ourselves.  Darwin’s discovery of Natural Selection made him abandon the Christian faith of which he very nearly became an ordained minister.  I feel I owe him not just this post but a whole score of reflections inspired by him.  The first concerns his thoughts on the damage done to children by religious brainwashing :

I joined the Franciscans at the age of sixteen.  At seventeen I donned the habit, sandals and tonsure of a Franciscan novice.  Seven years later I was ordained a Catholic priest.  Three years after that, I was sent to Paris to obtain a Diploma in Pastoral Catechetics (Religious Education) and a Doctorate in Theology.  If you have read the preceding chapters, you know that I ended my career as a Franciscan and as a priest, before the full completion of my studies.  You will, however, also remember that I spent the following ten years, in America, as a Director, and University Professor, of Religious Education.

When I now read Darwin, I shudder at having, with the best intentions in the world, contented myself with educating Catholic children and adults (as well as teachers and clergy) towards a more liberal understanding of their – and at the time, my – religion.  I was thereby continuing to contribute to the myth of God the Creator, the Bible as His Revelation, and Mother Church as His infallible spokesperson.  The following text of Darwin, from his “Autobiography”, will remain a thorn in my side for as long as I live :  “Let us not underestimate the probability that constant education in believing in God in the mind of children produces an effect so powerful, which can be hereditary in their as yet not fully developed brains.  It would be as difficult for them to reject belief in God as for a monkey to abandon its hate and instinctive fear of snakes”.

I am afraid that the damage I did in reinforcing the credulity of my students will lead many of them to condemn and reject the testimony of my book and this blog that I was mistaken, tragically mistaken.  Some, however, may read this and recognize that I am now trying to correct my misguided guidance and inviting them to share the light I have been vouchsafed (!) to see !

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

 

THE FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL

A few years ago, I heard on National French radio, the screams of, and the conflict being waged among themselves by, illegal, famished immigrants, fighting over the limited supplies of food provided for them by a hamstrung municipality – not in Africa but in northern France, the fifth richest country in the world.

This may be a omen of what is to come world-wide.  People in the starving nearby continent of Africa are already trying to save their lives by sailing in pathetic, tiny, overcrowded boats, to land in Europe, which is, for them, if not the home of the brave, at least the land of the free – and the well-fed.  Many do not make it.  Many drown.  Others are caught and sent back “home”.  The U.S. and Australia face the same bid for freedom and food – both notoriously lacking in Central American and some South-East Asian countries.

Malthus was brutal, his doctrine cruel and inhuman.  We must above all, said he, not provide food for the starving.  We are already overpopulated.  Today we would say that we need TWO Earths to provide sustenance for the world at the European level, FIVE Earths for the world’s population to live like Americans.  Malthus suggested that we force the starving to die.  There is just so much room (“lebensraum”, living room, in recent parlance . . .), just so much food.  We cannot support unlimited population increase.  There will be blood.  Or worse, starvation.  Mothers will, in increasing numbers, watch their babies die.  An imminent Slaughter of the Innocents.

My book, “From Illusions to Illumination”, and this blog are neither a political nor a sociological thesis.  They are collections of reflections on belief in God and its consequences for mankind.  I am convinced that religious faith is not only useless in face of the potential catastrophe before us, but dangerous in the comforting illusions it creates (“Worry not about tomorrow” !).  Hitchens went so far as to say that it poisons everything.

Atheism will not solve the world’s problems.  But, liberated from the God delusion, we can at least face reality.  And perhaps, without any help from a non-existent deity, find the means to save ourselves from destruction.  Time, like an adequate food supply, is running out.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

P.S.   For technical reasons, publication of the next post will be delayed until the end of the month.

” JE NE REGRETTE RIEN “

Edith Piaf claimed, in her signature song, to have no regrets.  Of course she did; we all do.  Sinatra’s song, “I’ll Do it My Way”, was more honest, when he admitted to having “a few”.  The list each of us could honestly make would be both long and enlightening, at least to ourselves.  The most interesting implication would be what we do not regret.  As far as my atheism is concerned, I do regret having taken so long to let in the light.  Instead of asking for a Papal Dispensation from the priesthood (as though I needed a Pope to annul meaningless vows), I should have thought my doubts through, and realized that having questioned celibacy, I should have questioned the whole shebang.  It took me ten years to do so.

More important is what I do not regret : coming out and declaring my refusal to accept the existence of God.  As I have already said, the pain and problems which this involves for others, dear family and treasured friends, is collateral damage which I would prefer to have been able to avoid.  But it was not possible.  So, so be it. Had I decided to keep my atheism under a bushel, I would have violated a principle fundamental to self-respect : “To thine own self be true”.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

CLIMATE CHANGE AND GOD

In the 2013 movie “Now You See Me”, Morgan Freeman reminded us that at the heart of many beLIEfs is a LIE.  The Book of Mormon, inscribed on the “golden plates” supposedly given to the founder of the Mormons, Joseph Smith, by the angel Moroni (!) – and, conveniently, since lost – is a recent religious example.  But most religions, modern and ancient – the invention of which was not entirely disinterested – are built not so much on lies (like Mormonism and $cientology) as on wishful thinking and/or fear.  Myths belong to the realm of make-believe.  Magi and magicians, story-tellers and sorcerers, witch-doctors and prophets – believed by the ignorant to be not only wise and powerful but divinely inspired – found willing, credulous audiences for the story each claimed to be history, when in fact it was only his-story.

Some people believe we are responsible for climate-change; others do not.  Climate skeptics say that attributing climate-change to pollution, deforestation and other human destruction of the environment is, to quote Trump, a “hoax”.  Some people believe in God; others do not.  Is there any difference between these two beliefs ?

My personal inclination is to agree with ecologists like Nicolas Hulot and the majority of scientists expert in the domain, that people are part of the cause of current climate-change.  The recent, perhaps unprecedented increase in tsunamis, tornadoes, floods, fires and droughts, would seem to be due, in part at least, to our abuse of the environment by excessive carbon dioxide emission, the massive destruction of forests, and putting short-term economic advantage before long-term environmental protection.

Some scientists strongly disagree.  Witness the dissenting eminent climate experts in the international conference sponsored by the Heartland Institute in New York in March, 2009.

Such differences of opinion are normal in scientific debate, which by definition is open to new data.  The God-question, however, cannot be compared with the debate about the causes, or even the reality, of global warning.  Religious dogma suffers no other options; it refuses even to examine objectively the data Darwin gave us more than a century and a half ago.

New data could necessitate nuances concerning the causes of climate-change.  But there has never been any hard data to support belief in God.  Bertrand Russell was right when he said that if God were to ask him, after his death, why he had refused to believe, he would say that there was “just not enough evidence”.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

FALLING SHORT

Apparently atheists “fall short of the American ideal of life”.  The opinion, reported in his obituary (TIME magazine, December 15, 2008), is that of the Rev. George Docherty, whose 1954 sermon so influenced President Eisenhower that the phrase “under God” was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance.  Just another reminder of how difficult it is for me and other atheists to get Americans to begin to question their belief  in God.  But we would be falling short of our duty if we gave up trying.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

A MATTER OF (CHURCH) POLICY

A  DAY OFF  FOR  LIFT-OFF

“Up, up and away !”  “We have Lift-Off !”  Only 5% of French men and women know why today is a Public Holiday.  Because it is a Holy Day.  Everyone knows it is Ascension Thursday, but few have any idea what that means.  Don’t tell them.  They would die laughing.

********************

One of the most outrageous, and certainly most entertaining, send-ups of religion I have ever heard is a song on the C.D. “Travelin’ Band” (1997, Sierra Records, P.O. Box 5853, Pasadena, Ca. 91117).  Outrageous but, different from much that is written here, not at all offensive, even to pious ears, at least to those that belong to believers with a sense of humor.

Its preface introduces this cautionary tale by describing what follows as “a little story about what happens when you get religion ahead of the Lord, instead of the other way round”.  (Even redneck fundamentalists could not quarrel with that).

The song tells the story of a member of the congregation who arrives at the church, in advance of the service, on Sunday, only to find it on fire.  He rushes to tell the “leading deacon” who assures him that his is “a point well put and a timely suggestion”, which he will bring up “at the very next meeting of the Board of Deacons a week from Tuesday”.  “I don’t know why”, says he, “it’s just church policy at the First Nazametha, Baptecostal, Seventh Day Orthodox, Luthereterian, non-denominational Church of Our Lady of the Mind”.

The satire gets better (or worse).  The following Sunday, in a tent “paid for by the building fund”, the same parishioner announces that a tornado is on its way : “Everybody run !”.  The leading deacon duly takes note for the meeting a week from Tuesday.  Finally, at the tent-less open-air service the next Sunday, our hero announces that the congregation should lift up their heads, “for the Lord has come today !”.  The deacon once again puts the fact on the next meeting’s agenda.

All beautiful, original, harmless parody.  But there is a cruel truth in the humor.  Believers are not necessarily unintelligent.  Just blind.  Church traditions, no matter how out of touch with reality, must be observed and never questioned.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

GOD , AIDS AND ALZHEIMER’S

The title is so obvious that you can already guess what I am going to say.  I will not disappoint you.

I have to wonder what an Intelligent Divine Designer would have been up to, if He really wanted – or even allowed – Aids and Alzheimer’s to exist.  What possible meaning can one give to such divine indifference or cruelty ?  Atheists are at war with windmills.  We are the modern Don Quixote’s, though, I hope, less demented than the Spanish knight.  Today’s windmills, the fervent believers and preachers full of hot air, want us to continue to believe their nonsense, when they talk about God acting in “mysterious ways” or inflicting these horrors “to try us”.  We, Don Quixote redivivus, will do our best to discredit the mills that crank out credulity.

But if you take five – or even less, just a single moment, to think – do you seriously believe that a good God would want us to suffer from diseases like these ?  It is tragically true that some Christian maniacs actually suggest that Aids is a divine punishment for our immorality, if not homosexuality.

I just hope that some far-seeing international editor will publish my final opus, combining my book “From Illusions to Illumination” and this blog (“blindfaithblindfolly”), before I succumb to the Alzheimer’s that killed my brother Mick at age 67.  I may very well one day lose my marbles, as he did.  But I would love to share the Reflections these marbles have allowed me to write, and which I modestly suggest deserve a wide readership, before this disease, or another, kills me.  It is the last item on my Bucket List.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

THERE HAD TO BE A BETTER WAY

Our bodies are as fascinating as they are complex.  But why would a loving, intelligent, omnipotent, divinely delicate God have decided to give us such a disgusting digestive system ?  Brainless, impersonal, indifferent, purposeless (survival excepted) evolution could not have cared less.  Like other animals, we ingest food, like them we extract what we need to survive, and eject the rest.

Nobody ever talks about this.  “Give us this day our daily bread”.  But if our daily bread, meat and those recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables, are not followed by a daily bowel movement, we are in trouble.  “Give us this day our daily BM.

I am amazed that believers imagine that God intended us to go, several times a day, “to the bathroom” . . . “to wash our hands” !  These are American euphemistic, puritanical expressions for using the toilet – for urination and/or defecation – a place sometimes described Stateside even as “the little boys’ room” or “the little girls’ room”, and this presumably only for the passing of urine.  “Number Two” apparently never happens.  Thank Whatever most of us have an efficient – if embarrassing – digestive system, and in developed countries at least, adequate sewage systems.  “God”, of course, has as little to do with the former as with the latter.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO