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Captagon is an amphetamine popular with ISIS (Daesh) kamikaze terrorists.  It is apparently very effective in producing a “high” of euphoria and an illusion of power, coupled with the ability to stay awake and alert for long periods of time.  It is also a source of Dutch courage, as was Dutch gin in naval battles centuries ago, and rum on the killing fields of World War I and in the many wars that have followed the one we call Great.  Fear of an officer’s bullet in the back, fear of being accused of cowardice, a Band of Brothers camarderie (“mateship” for Australians), personal altruism, patriotism and genuine courage – there are multiple causes of battlefield bravery.  Facing possible, probable or certain death calls for a courage which some find in themselves and others in bottles, in either liquid or capsule form.

Daesh has been called a Death-Cult.  Much of its appeal and efficacy come from the conviction inculcated in recruits that death, including religiously motivated suicide, is a mere passage to another, better life and its promised rewards.  The same conviction is the principal belief shared by all religions.  Christian tradition goes so far as to speak of a Saint’s death as his birthday into eternal life.  The solidity of this cornerstone of both established religions and extremist sects like Daesh, is unlikely to be shaken by the absence of any evidence of the reality of an afterlife.  Non-Christians are understandably unimpressed by Christ’s “Resurrection”, to say nothing of His Mother’s “apparitions”.  Believers believe that Heaven exists because their holy books say that it does, and that’s good enough for them.

There was a striking example of all this recently on French TV.  An “orthodox”, “moderate” Muslim was explaining that though his blog condemning the deformation of True Islam by Islamist terrorists had resulted in Daesh death-threats, he was not afraid to die – “if it is the will of Allah”.

The example underlines the source of all religious belief, including that which motivates suicidal, terrorist assassins (the word, we remember, comes from “hashish” …) : death is just the door to eternal life.  There is no need to be afraid of dying; a better life awaits us – to the point that some people want to jump (pardon the pun) the gun.  Death ?  The sooner the better !

We atheists do not fear death.  Suffering, yes.  A long, drawn-out, painful terminal illness, yes.  But death itself is the end and there ain’t no more.  So let’s do what we can to have it happen as late as possible (or to make it happen if life becomes unbearable).  Both good believers and evil fanatics, after they die, will never know how wrong they were.









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One must admire Parisians for the courage they have displayed over the last week.  There has been a plethora of expressions of sympathy for the victims and their families, endless analyses of what happened and why, tough talk in bars and in articles with quasi-identical  titles – “How to Conquer Daesh” – (L’Obs, 19-25 November), “How to Smash Daesh” (L’Express, 18-24 November) – brave denials  of being afraid and encouragement to show it by continuing to go to the theatre, music concerts, sporting events and  the local bistrot after the day’s boulot for the habitual apéro.  Life must go on, and to change our life-style would be to admit defeat.  The fact  is that we really have no choice.  Some of us  – for the time being – will take precautions, avoiding crowds, accepting restrictions to our freedom of movement, inspection of our persons and belongings and even houses, traffic jams and other inconveniences required by security.  But we know that the officially declared three-month state of emergency is here to stay.  From now on, we will all be in harm’s way.

Not a very encouraging prospect.  While terrorists are planning their next strike we will try to find the courage to pursue our daily routines rather than live in constant fear of being part of the next tragedy.  We can no longer be blind or indifferent to the now permanent threat of violence and death.  We shall approve or at least tolerate the costly measures security demands.  We will accept necessary restrictions on freedoms we have enjoyed until now.  But some of us will not be content with fatalism, resignation and safety first.  We will promote reflection on the root-causes and motivations of terrorists, do our best to deradicalize the fanatics and prevent the indoctrination of new recruits to Daesh.

The battle will be for hearts and minds.  Until Daesh self-destructs by recognition of its blind faith and blind folly, we will continue to live in a Reign of Terror.  The Catholic Inquisition no longer exists.  When  will Islamic terrorism become a thing of the past ?






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He was the “mastermind” behind the triple, simultaneous, coordinated attacks in Paris a week ago.  His body was positively identified yesterday as that of one of the terrorists shot dead the day before by the French SWAT team we call “RAID”, in a dilapidated “squat” in St Denis, the suburb just north of Paris, famous for its Basilica and the tombs of the Kings of France, and for the Stade de France – one of the scenes of the Black Friday kamikaze explosions.  Among the repercussions of this major news item is the troublesome, embarrassing revelation of the ease of Abdelhamid Abaaoud’s movements across Europe, from his native Belgium to and from Syria before implementing his plan of mass murder by his team of terrorists.  His diary reveals his self-satisfaction in duping the police checking his (false) passport.  He wrote that “Allah blinded them” !

Abaaoud was born in a Bruxelles suburb and attended the Catholic school there.   He joined Daesh in Syria in 2013 and was recently the subject of laudatory articles in “Dabiq”, Daesh’s official magazine (the name of which recalls the prophesied scene of Islam’s final, apocalyptic conflict with the Infidels).  Photos present him holding in one hand the Koran and in the other the Daesh flag.  He was a star of Daesh, and no doubt now one of its heroes and martyrs, who sacrificed his life for Allah and His Prophet.

“Allah blinded them”.  Yahweh opened the Red Sea for Moses and the Chosen People and drowned their Egyptian pursuers.  Jesus walked on  water.  People who believe stuff like that will believe anything.  God help us !





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There are, it seems to me, four possible purposes for cruelty, torture, terrorism and other crimes against humanity.

The first purpose is that practised by the German Gestapo and in Russian goulags and in American jails like Guantanamo : to extract information.  The American Vice-President and others in George W. Bush’s cabinet approved waterboarding (the extraction of finger-nails is torture; waterboarding, according to Cheney and Co., is not) to discover the names of post-9/11 suspected terrorists.  The French, who had suffered atrociously in Gestapo prisons like Bourges and torture-chambers like those in the Rue Lauriston, did not hesitate to practise torture themselves during the war in Algeria.  Military authorites in some countries still justify torture as an indispensable, if regrettable, tool for acquiring information that, they say, is essential for preventing further loss of life.

The second is vengeance.  The carpet-bombing of Dresden and Berlin were motivated by the destruction of Coventry and the blitzkrieg on London.  Family vendettas often include both physical and psychological torture.

The third is an appendix of vengeance : submission.  Terror, like torture, can be  highly effective in terrifying individuals and whole populations into blind obedience and the acceptance of a totalitarian regime.

The last is often associated with the other three : sadistic pleasure.  The others are just as inhuman, but this one is irrational, pathetic, pathological  evidence of totally self-centered, sick minds.

We are talking here of deliberate cruelty, not of what I call collateral cruelty.  Every injustice, every  crime, involves cruelty, to different degrees.  Burglars deprive people of often hard-won possessions and valuables, but also of worthless bibelots, photos  and souvenirs, the loss of  which is experienced as outrageous cruelty.  Drug dealers, swindlers, dishonest businessmen, dictatorial managers inflict damage that can cause terrible, undeserved suffering, though that, except perhaps in the last example, is not their primary purpose.

Terrorism is, without a doubt, the supreme example of consciously willed cruelty.  The Black Friday attacks in Paris by Daesh on November 13, 2015,  not only resulted in the death of over 130 innocent, unarmed people, but the excruciating suffering of hundreds of critically wounded victims, still fighting for their lives in emergency wards, as well as the unimaginably unbearable pain and trauma of their family and friends.

The slaughter was motivated explicitly by vengeance, but also by the desire to force France and the rest of the free world into submission to Daesh.  In the short term the terrorists have succeeded, in spite of our brave denials, in terrifying us all.  But not in making us submit to their demands.  The world is about to discover a French Resistance that will be a model for the rest of the world.  Whatever the cost, whatever new cruelty we have to face, we shall overcome.

                             ” NE   PAS   SUBIR ”   :   ” NEVER   GIVE   IN “

                              —    General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny  (1889-1952)


“Salaam, Aziz !  I understand you plan to blow yourself up, along with the Eiffel Tower and a few hundred tourists.  Could you tell me how you came to make this decision ?”

“Praised be Allah and His Prophet for allowing me to explain the most important decision in my life.  It is kind of you to take time out from your busy schedule here in the mosque to listen to me.  But I must first ask you, my dear Imam, to respect my secret which I suppose you learned from my brother, who had however sworn to say nothing to anybody.”

“Your brother unfortunately is not a good Muslim but he does love you.”

“Well, actually, it’s pretty simple.  I just turned nineteen and have done my best all my life to be faithful to our religion.  I want to please Allah by punishing His enemies and join Him as soon as possible in Paradise.”

“But why give up all that life offers, for one that many say does not exist ?  Not only atheists – may Allah enlighten or destroy them according to His holy will – but half-baked believers in our own faith would say you are giving up a life that is real, for one that at best is uncertain, if not a pipe-dream ?”

“I pity such people.  I have Allah’s word for it in the Koran.  I want to be a martyr.  All my life I’ve been waiting for a chance to show how much I believe that God is great and how much I hate His enemies.”

“Praise His name !  Aziz, you have chosen the path of perfection !  If you could arrange to perform this sacred act on July 14, it would be something that France and the whole world will never forget.  I just wanted to make sure you knew what you were doing.”

Aziz got his short-cut to Heaven, but not the way he expected.  He was sitting with friends outside a café across the road from the Pantheon when it was blown up by other jihadists.  They each got their promised seventy-two virgins, but Aziz got none.  It is not enough to have good intentions.




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Hitler’s almost succeeded.  In twelve years, 1933 to 1945, he managed to annihilate one third of the world’s Jews : 6 million out of 18 million.  France’s 9/11, November 13, last Friday, has made the terrified world wonder how to stop Islamist terrorism.  Efforts up till now, from bombing Daesh to national surveillance of suspects to deradicalization of fanatics have simply not worked.  Current suggestions include a gigantic European Guantanamo for migrants.  Why not a world-wide Shoah to eliminate Muslims ?   They are somewhat more numerous than were Jews in the 1930s, but if we put our minds and ovens to it, we could annihilate every one of the 1.3 billion Muslims on earth and end terrorism once and for all.  The only good Muslim is a dead one.

Some people who read only that paragraph, or worse, just the title of this post, and take them literally, will either approve or scream bloody murder.  It is to be hoped that more intelligent readers will recognize obvious irony and a “reductio ad absurdum” when they see them.  The outrageous paragraph is meant to highlight, precisely, the absurdity , and incidentally the inhumanity, of such a “Final Solution”.  But it also points up the injustice of condemning the vast majority of good, decent, non-violent and non-fanatic disciples of the Prophet, who are not only as horrified by terrorism as the rest of us, but are its first victims.

Nonetheless, hearing the French home-grown fanatics in the Bataclan theater in Paris scream “Allah Akbah” before slaughtering scores of rock-fans with their kalashnikovs and detonating the explosives they wore, brands their atrocity with the mark of religion and the name of God.  Pope Francis rightly called this “blasphemy”.  To atheists, blasphemy of course makes no sense : it is about the same as insulting Santa as “scum” (as in the French movie “Le Père Noël est une ordure”).   But although “orthodox” Muslims also condemn the “blasphemy” and insist that Daesh is not authentic Islam, one cannot ignore the religious belief behind its fanatical terrorism.

Whatever measures of self-protection we take, whatever arguments non-Muslims – let alone atheists – present to try to enlighten extremists like Daesh, surely the ultimate, final … solution must come from Muslims themselves, and from their own Imans and theologians.  It is their responsibility to find ways of preventing the radicalization of their youth, the deformation of their religion, and the use of the Koran and the Hadiths to justify the slaughter of innocents.  But given the explicit texts in their sacred writings and the ancient, violent schism between Sunnis and Shiites, only a radical reform of their religion can hope to achieve the end of terrorism born of fundamentalism and fanaticism.  Is this an impossible dream, like our mantra . . .




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The final destruction of religion, like the creation of fusion energy, is about thirty years away  –  and always will be !  That pessimism has to be questioned, at least as far as the scientific breakthrough is concerned, if one is to believe the promising current rapid advances in the industrialization of nuclear science.   But while I’m hopeful that our grandchildren will profit from the end of an era involving the use of fossil fuels, pollution and climate change (the head of Princeton Lab says it is “inevitable”), I’m afraid they will still find the world’s religions as alive and as well and as poisonous as ever.  Some believers may soon even credit and thank God for providing us with, in TIME’s cover-phrase (November 2, 2015), “unlimited energy for everyone, forever”.

The Catholic Church continues  to lose influence in many developed countries, but it is thriving in others.  Recent Vatican scandals including the Gregorian University’s Professor of Theology’s coming out as an active homosexual priest, along with others like Ireland’s Tuam nuns’ child-abuse, will rock but never sink the barque of Peter.  “Fluctuat nec mergitur” : like the city of Paris, the Church may be battered by the waves but will not flounder.

We atheists know that we may never win the war against credulity, blind faith and blind folly.  I, in this and other domains as well, have belatedly begun to “settle for less”.  So, have you ever wondered what God does all day ?

RIDENDA   RELIGIO ( “DELENDA”  is a tad too much)



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If you think that He has had His hands (He has none) full for the last 14 billion years since He set off the Big Bang, keeping His eye (idem) on all that’s going on in His gi – gan – tic Universe, you might well ask first what He was doing before that.  Some imagine that He must have been terribly lonely, all alone outside spacetime (not yet created) – which some say is why He created us, to provide a little action.  But Christians know better : the Godhead is a Trinity, not three heads (idem again) but three Persons.  Even then, before TV and video-games and even printing had been invented, all those members of the Divine Family could do was chat.  Married people know the challenge that that can be, after even just a few years let alone a whole eternity …

But to return to the reality we know, the world that has been evolving since the B.B. :  Did He just say “Go !” and the original, incredibly dense speck He had created exploded to give birth to a pre-programed Universe, or did He intervene along the way to make sure everything was hunky-dory and happening according to Hoyle (who also did not yet exist) ?  Reducing cosmic history to a day of 24 hours, it appears that we appeared just before midnight.  Now He really had His work cut out.  Galaxies and supernovas and planets do what they are told.  But He gave us free will and, as He must have foreseen, all Hell broke loose.  The very first bloke He created stepped out of line and we’ve been doing the same ever since.  So He had to punish us by condemning us to death.  At one point He even wiped out the whole race, but saved one family and a whole Ark full of animals.

Some say that He is still keeping busy.  Either He is continuing to punish us with tsunamis, earthquakes, bushfires and floods, or allowing them to happen because He can’t quite manage to control them, or He couldn’t give a damn and is leaving us to fend for ourselves.

One could go on, but all of that is already so silly that there is no point in spelling out the absurdity of believing in such a God.  The craziest thing we ever did was to invent Him – and then believe in our own make-believe !  Atheists have seen through the fairy-tale, but face an uphill battle getting believers to recognize it as childish nonsense.  Some atheists prefer to not even try.  I am a former believer who feels obliged to make up for having spent half of my life not only believing but promoting what I now recognize as blind folly.  I am an atheist with an agenda.




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I find it amazing that the majority of people are not permanently amazed at the constant expansion of our unimaginably astronomical Universe.  They never think about it, never talk about it; they may fill in time distractedly viewing a video graphically portraying it in realistic animation, but remain totally underwhelmed by this astounding cosmic phenomenon that no one even suspected up to a few years before I was born.  Edwin Hubble published in the early 1930s proof that the Universe was not only expanding but that what we now know to be, thanks to the space telescope that bears his name, 100 billion galaxies, are not only rushing madly away from each other, but are doing so more quickly the further away they are.  When Hubble began his study of the cosmos, people were convinced that there was only one galaxy, our own Milky Way.  We know its dimensions : 100,000 light-years in diameter (that’s 900,000,000,000,000,000 kilometers) and 2000 light-years thick (18,000,000,000,000,000 kms).  We know too that it contains some 400 billion stars.  There are about 4 trillion planets in our galaxy alone.  As there are at least 100 billion galaxies in the Universe, that means that the Universe contains no less than 400,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (4 hundred billion trillion) planets more or less comparable to our own little blue planet Earth (though only a small percentage, apparently, would be capable of sustaining life).

Is all this believeable ?  If you had given those figures to my Dad, he would, like us, not only have failed to grasp their reality and significance, but probably would have dismissed them as absurd.  His vision of reality was never challenged by such figures, discovered by Science when he was in his thirties.  But neither is the vision of most people today who are totally unaware of, or who prefer to ignore, them : they have zero impact on what they are interested in, concerned about or convinced of.  Their faith in a Divine Superbeing is untroubled by the patent pointlessness of a Universe ballooning beyond imagination.  Their myopia is such that they are not moved even to wonder why the God they believe in would have created such a meaningless collection of spheres hurtling aimlessly through space.

We KNOW – we do not just believe – that the statistics of the Universe which we have recalled are factual, real, not fictional or the result of wild imagination.  The existence of such a Universe (a beautiful but Mad, Mad, Mad World) renders literally incredible the purely imaginary belief that Someone, some Supreme Intelligence, created it and us.  As rational beings we may or we may not be alone in the Universe.  Even if we are not alone, as logic would suggest, it is highly unlikely that we will ever meet an extraterrestrial.  ET will remain a charming character on the movie screen.  But it is just too much to believe that the chaotic expansion of our Universe is part of some divine plan which includes  eternal life in a celestial Paradise for the puny inhabitants of a tiny, insignificant planet among the four hundred billion trillion out there.

Many people see the Universe as somehow evidence that God exists.  On the contrary its very size, its endless expansion, the absence of any finality of its countless galaxies and planets, are for me strong evidence or at least indicators that He doesn’t.


SEX AND THE CITY (of the Vatican)


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“Omne exemplum claudicat”.  The Bishops convening in their Synod in Rome to legislate on what is moral and what is not in the domain of family-planning, divorce, recomposed families and homosexual marriages would all understand the title’s principle, however poor their Latin : “Every example limps”.

I, remember, am a former Franciscan priest who at the age of 17 renounced not only his sexuality by taking a vow of chastity, but also, through the vow of poverty, the right to own anything; “my” missal, “my” breviary, and the borrowed habit and sandals I wore were not mine.  I had, mercifully, exclusive use of “my” toothbrush but I didn’t own it.  The vow of chastity was reinforced at the age of 24 by being ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood.  The taking and living of those two vows provide me with an analogy, an example, which like all examples is not perfect but perfectly pertinent, to the Bishops’ decrees on sex and family life.  To appreciate the analogy, a little background is necessary.

Secular, diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty, though many of them live very frugally.  Nothing forbids them from owning a home (though a presbytery, a rectory, is provided by the Diocese) or from inheriting or making money (preferably not by selling indulgences but perhaps books they write).  The “regular” clergy, members of religious Orders, renounce those rights.  Many of them are totally devoid of experience in handling funds larger than the pocket-money they may or may not have received as children.  Fortunately there are exceptions.  All religious Orders manage to find members with a knack for managing money, notably donations and legacies which sometimes represent considerable amounts of money.  And every friary, monastery and parish committed to religious Orders has a Superior or Parish Priest who, in spite of his vow of poverty, acquires enough competence in accounting to make sure that the contributions they receive are used correctly.

There are, among the secular clergy, multiple examples of priests with remarkable financial skills.  Besides historical figures like Cardinals Richelieu and Mazzarin, Bishops are often gifted financial managers, or at least shrewd enough to make sure their Diocesan Treasurer is doing his job as he should.  Naturally there are the rare, scandalous exceptions, like the German “Bishop of Bling” (see my post of October 21, 2013) and my personal Vatican secret agent who accelerated the granting of my dispensation, the late Archbishop Marchinkus, the infamous Director of the Bank of the Holy Spirit (!) (see my post of May 11, 2014, “The Vatican as a Saint-Factory”).

By and large, the multinational which is the Catholic Church and its subsidiaries, local dioceses, know a thing or two about money-management and the value of real-estate. But by and large, run-of-the-mill Franciscans, mendicants, as I was, are better at begging than, say, advising people on investing on the Stock Exchange.

This has been a long introduction to my perhaps predictable analogy : celibate, exclusively male Bishops are about as competent to decree laws on family life as Franciscans would be to draft a nation’s economic policies.  The Men in Black (or Purple) in Rome would describe that conclusion as “in cauda venenum”, “poison in the punch-line”.  But it is an example that is far from paralytic, with not a trace of a limp.

                         RIDENDA   RELIGIO


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