SWAN – SONG ?

This is not Post 852.  In fact it is not a post at all, but rather an article I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), which its Opinion Page editor declined to publish (“too long”, he said . . . ).  It is at once a précis of my life, and for those who may be interested, an answer to the question why I have spent most of it in France (of course, if you couldn’t give a ratz, read just the first half).

I look like Hitchcock, have an iffy ticker and use a cane, but I am by and large (with the emphasis on the latter) in good health, as I face the final furlongs in the race I’ve been running these last eight decades.  Although I can hardly be described at present, in the falsch-German words of the old “Saturday Evening Post” as “proceeden mit breaknecken speeden”, I will pursue the metaphor by saying that the Finishing Post is in sight.  So, for what it is worth, this will serve as the Epilogue to my Blog, as well as an “Adieu” to its past, present, and I trust, future readers.  (I would have to be a Blind Believer to say “Au revoir”; that, my friends, is what I call a “venenum in cauda”).  Enjoy what’s left of your life : my agenda exactly !

“THE  OTHER  KID  FROM  KOGARAH’S  FRENCH  CONNECTION”

Clive James may not appreciate my title’s plagiarism from his “Unreliable Memoirs”, but I grew up in Kogarah, on Sydney’s south side, at the same time he did.  (The first line of his book reads : “I was born in 1939.  The other major event that year was the outbreak of World War 2.”).  Since he left Australia, he has spent most of his life in London.  I’ve spent most of mine in France.  Everyone knows Clive and appreciates the books and articles he has written, as well as his TV programs and interviews that have entertained millions.  No one knows me, apart from the Fortunate Few, readers of my outrageous Blog, which I shall inevitably plug later in this article.  But having spent 27 years in Australia – exactly one third of my present 81 years – and no less than 44 in France (topped off with 10 in the States), I thought my extraordinary decision to choose to live in France rather than Australia might interest compatriots who have found the French both fascinating and infuriating.  So if ever you have wondered about people who eat snails, frog legs and cheese that stinks to high heaven, who are considered the most arrogant and rude people Aussies encounter during their European odysseys, and who very nearly managed to make Australia French, you might find the following worth reading.

I should begin by letting you know that this is not my first contribution on this subject in the pages of the SMH.  Exactly twenty years ago the editors were kind enough to publish my “Let’s Be Frank about France” (Friday … March 13, 1998).  So I shall not repeat here what I said there, though I modestly submit that it provides information and insights which complement those that follow.

A summary C.V. might be helpful to put into context what I have to say, two decades later, about France and the French.

After primary and secondary education in local Catholic schools, I decided – having done my L.C. (H.S.C. today) at age 15 – to become a Franciscan priest.  Nine years later I was ordained by Cardinal Gilroy in St Mary’s Cathedral, and after three years’ ministry (including preaching in said Cathedral), I was sent to acquire a doctorate in Theology at the Catholic University in Paris.  At the end of my studies, the Revolution of 1968 included my personal revolution to leave both the Franciscan Order and the priesthood to marry (celibacy no longer made any sense to me), and to accept a job in the U.S. as a Religious Education Director and University Professor of Religious Pedagogy.  For ten years I was a liberal lay-theologian in the employ of the Church.  No one except the priest  who had first employed me knew that I was a former priest, dispensed from my vows by Saint Pope Paul VI.

My French wife decided, after a decade Stateside, that she had had enough, so we came back to France with our three children, aged 9, 7 and 5.  I had no money, no job, no future – and a tourist visa valid for only three months.  I was however lucky enough to find a job in a training institute where I learned the trade of training managers in Management and Communication.  After seven years a French multinational in Information Technology, CAPGEMINI, invited me to become its Associate Director of Human Resources for France, and later a branch-manager and a co-founder of its corporate university.  I retired in 2001.

Though a firm believer during my American religious teaching career, I gradually realized, as I faced the challenge of surviving in France, that I had become an atheist.  I abandoned the faith I once had and had promulgated for the previous twenty-five years.  After my retirement I self-published a book (“From Illusions to Illumination.  The Itinerary of a Franciscan Priest from Catholicism to Atheism”), and launched a blog (blindfaithblindfolly.wordpress.com) dedicated to sowing terminal doubts in the minds of people I called “Believers on the Brink”.  Recently I wrote the last of the 850 blog-posts permanently available – in English – to readers all over the world.  I hope that one day, before or after I die, an editor will decide to publish the best of my book and blog, perhaps under the title “Why I, a Priest, Chose Atheism.  A Professor of Theology’s Reasons for Rejecting Religion”.

So much for the background essential to understanding how I came to spend over half of my 81 years in France.

I do not claim to be objective about my adopted country.  I am proud of my nom-de-plume : “Frank O’Phile”.  But I have few illusions about this fabulous country, its past glory and current challenges, even about its “unique” contribution to the world’s cultural wealth, as well as about its pretentiousness and crimes against humanity (notably in its colonial history, its practice of slavery and the crimes of the French Revolution).  Rather than analyse these well-known facets of the phenomenon which is France, let me tell you why I enjoy living here and why I have for so long called the Hexagon home.

  1.  Let’s face it.  Sydney (even … Melbourne) are beautiful, livable cities with assets that are things of beauty and a joy forever for locals and visitors alike.  But Paris is Paris !  My hometown here, L’Isle-Adam, fifty kilometers north of the capital, was aptly named by Honoré de Balzac his “terrestrial Paradise”.  Bidart, near Biarritz, site of my other home On Zeee Beeech is – literally – a Surfer’s Paradise.  The natural beauty, historic culture and exquisite gastronomy of the Basque Country are unlike anything in Australia.  Aussies are justifiably proud of their Lucky Country.  But the quality of life in France is incomparable.
  2. The 2000 years of Gallic-French history cannot be compared with that of Australia’s 250.  France is drenched in history, cities and castles, monuments and museums, nowhere to be found Down Under.  “Blasé” is a French word, but it has never applied to the permanent presence of the past which I experience wherever I go in France.
  3. We are proud of our Australian poets, playwrights, painters, authors, engineers and scientists, but French culture, art, literature, philosophy, architecture and scientific discoveries are appreciated all over the world.
  4. Even the French recognize that they and their “patrie” are not perfect.  They are not proud of many aspects of their long history.  They do not pretend to have forged a model for other countries to emulate (though Napoleon was convinced that they – he – did).  But they do have much to be proud of, admitting, in passing, that they invented the word “chauvinism” …  .  They were the world’s pioneers in the domain of liberty, equality and fraternity.  They continue to count on the world’s stage.
  5. In case you’re wondering, it will be no surprise for Australians to learn that my militant atheism has met with more tolerance, even indifference, here than in Australia. Had I returned to Sydney with my pregnant wife and later abandoned the faith, we would at the time have become social outcasts.  Thank God (?), Australia has come a long way since then.
  6. I have to admit that the French remain frustratingly … French !  They continue to think that because a mere 250 million people speak their language, it deserves equal status with the lingua franca that happens to be Australia’s mother-tongue.  And that damned accent they have when they are obliged to speak our (impossible) language (60% of which is of Latin-French origin) !  Why can’t the French, Professor Henry Higgins could have said, why can’t the French practise, when trying to speak English, the tonic accent (“ca-TAS-tro-phe”, not “ca-ta-STROPHE”) ?
  7. “Enfin” (at the end of the day … ), one could ask of this unique, lovely, blessed country : “Quo vadis ?”  Many of us, less than two years ago, thought we were witnessing an historic breakthrough of the tradition born in 1789, the dichotomy of the Right and the Left.  Emmanuel Macron may not have been the Messiah, but the majority of the French pinned our hopes on this young, brilliant businessman, suddenly become our President.  In the last two months, the country has taken an enormous step backward, with the “yellow vests” demanding a more equitable distribution of the country’s wealth (largely justified) but also a repositioning of priorities where the environment, if not our physical survival,  would take a back-seat to the necessary handouts to the hard-strapped.  Violent riots, recalling those I witnessed as a student in Paris in 1968 (if not those I missed in 1789), have forced the government to give in.  The largely leaderless movement is now promoting government by referendum !

A former French Minister of the Interior – and Mayor of my hometown here – declared some years ago : “L’avenir n’est écrit nulle part” (“The future is written nowhere”).  I won’t be part of much of it (four score and ten would be a good score, even in cricket).  But I feel privileged to have been part of its recent past.

FRANK  O’PHILE, a.k.a.  Frank O’Meara

 

 

 

 

 

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MERRY – GO – ROUNDS

At the Fair, children always ask for a ride on the merry-go-round.   Babies don’t.  On the merry-go-round which is life, no one asks for a ride but everyone is given a ticket.  Like it or not, we just find ourselves on it, discovering later that – once again, like it or not – our too brief ride will end.  We had no choice about being born and we have no choice about sooner or later snuffing it.

We try hard to find sense in all this.  Believers, non-atheists, have the illusion that they have found life’s ultimate meaning in what they call the after-life.  But there is no second ride; we get off and new riders get on – we die, and there’s no getting back on.  Believers, of course, have invented resurrections, notably that which Jesus, they say, worked for Himself, after pulling off the trick for one of His mates, Lazarus, who, however, presumably died a second time.  Dying once is cruel enough.

Some unlucky individuals have such a miserable life that they wish they had never been born.  Most of us are glad we were, and would even be happy to live forever (so long as it didn’t get too boring), so much so that many convince themselves that they will, after the unfortunately inevitable “rite of passage” which is death.  The privileged, enlightened ones are those who make the most of their lives and accept the fact that they are given only one ticket to ride.

                                                     RIDENDA   RELIGIO

 

POST 850 : WHAT CAN I ADD TO THE OTHER 849 THAT WOULD MAKE YOU AN ATHEIST ?

God knows I’ve tried.  The WordPress stats show that over 3000 people (3396, to be precise), including many repeat, faithful readers no doubt, have consulted this Blog since I began publishing it in 2013.  What has kept me going all this time is the hope that somehow I would strike the right chord at least for some Believers on the Brink, who would finally be inspired to reject their faith entirely.  I guess I will never know how many I converted to atheism – or whether I converted anyone at all !  I could continue my search for the Holy Grail of the Fatal Flaws of Faith, in the process reassuring atheists perhaps more than troubling BOTBs . . .  But I prefer to stop – or at least to declare a pause – while I’m winning and am still compos mentis.

I don’t regret my efforts nor my perseverance.  I have provided anyone interested with a permanently available, massive library of reflections that leave no doubt – in my mind at least – that Religion is utter nonsense, “blindfaithblindfolly”.  I have been happy to share the convictions that led me to abandon first the Catholic priesthood and the Franciscan Order, and later faith itself.  Forty years ago I finally learned to see.  I am putting this Blog on hold, not closing it, and hope that many will continue to consult it and discover the truth that alone will set them free.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

HOMEOPATHY: A CREATURE OF CREDULITY , SECOND ONLY TO RELIGION

The snake-oil salesman is an icon of the American Far West in the 18th century,  along with the stage-coaches, the shoot-em-up saloons and a haunting harmonica theme familiar all over the planet.  It could be argued that a German conman a century earlier invented a medical scam that continues in our own to exploit a snake-oil credulity that milks nearly 50 million French devotees of homeopathy, who pay each year 640 million euros for supposedly medicinal bottled water containing less than one drop of an active ingredient.

In spite of a solemn proclamation by no less than 100 members of the French Academies of Science, Medicine and Pharmacy, refusing “the term ‘medicine’ for a product which has provided no demonstrations of its efficacy”, and declaring that “homeopathy is no more effective than any other placebo”, the French swear by this pseudo-remedy for all sorts of ills.  Spain, the U.S., the U.K., Russia, Sweden and Australia have all discredited homeopathy.  In Germany, where Samuel Hahnemann its creator, at the end of the 18th century, was judged guilty of the illegal practice of medicine, German Social Security since 2003 no longer reimburses homeopathy bills; Germans, like the French, remain hooked on homeopathy.

Religions promise much more than the cure of bronchitis and stomach aches.  They promise life after death.  Even homeopathy cannot cure terminal illnesses.  Then again, allopathy, traditional science-based medicine, cannot either.  Nor can religion, though believers are encouraged to pray for miracle cures.  What religions promise is not only an eternity of perfect health but of perfect joy.  People who take homeopathic “medicines” are, in fact, sometimes cured, thanks to the placebo effect.  But no one has ever been able to prove that the dead survive in an invisible afterlife.  People want it to be true.  Therefore it is.  Besides, billions of people believe it.  It’s the same with homeopathy.  Q.E.D.

P.S.  Right now, I’m suffering my first bout with bronchitis for the season.  A friend said he could heal me.  Magnetism, he said.  Not wanting to offend him, I allowed him to place his hand for a full minute on the back of my neck.  His hand was warm, but the miracle did not happen.  Hakuna matata.  Unperturbed, he said it “didn’t work with some people who don’t believe in it” !  The very definition of placebo.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

EINSTEIN ON GOD

Three million dollars in an auction for a one-page letter, or rather for two sentences :  “The word ‘God’ is, for me, nothing more than the expression and the product of human weaknesses, and the Bible a collection of legends which are venerable but quite primitive.  No interpretation, however subtle it may be, will change anything for me”  (University of Pennsylvania, April 1955, one year before his death).  These statements offer the coup de grâce to other less limpid texts attributed to the great man, dishonestly used to suggest that Einstein was a believer.

This explicit rejection of belief in God and the Bible proves nothing, of course.  Had he said the contrary, that would not prove anything either.  But I think we can be confident that history’s most celebrated scientist opted for atheism for the same reason as the philosopher, Bertrand Russell : “not enough evidence”.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

FROM FOOL-PROOF TO FUTURE-PROOF

Some might say that only fools believe in security-measures deemed to be fool-proof.  (Australians define a lock as a device to prevent your friends from opening your door or your safe.)  Absolute protection – whether from burglars, terrorists or bores – is, most agree, a pipe-dream.  Today a new word has been coined, suggesting the need to protect ourselves against the future.  Times were when the future, even a cloudy one, had a silver lining.  “Positive thinking” was supposed to ensure if not guarantee success in facing challenges, be they in the domain of health, romance, finance or career-success. Today the menace of an ecological Apocalypse has made many wonder whether the protesters’ signs of yesteryear, screaming “NO FUTURE”, were not, in fact, accurate prophecies of the doomsday before us.

Is there any way we can avoid the Armageddon some consider inevitable in the near future ?  Blind optimists, human ostriches, will continue to bury their heads in the sands of “docta ignorantia”.  Conmen will convince the suckers that, for a price, they can guarantee their protection.  The fatalists and the pessimists will promote resignation.  Religionists will preach hoping against hope and trusting in the Lord.  It is to be hoped that there are, out there, serious competent scholars and experts who refuse to give up without a fight, without research, investment and the marshaling of intelligences to face apparently insuperable difficulties.  We’ve done it before, they will say (Alan Turing’s ENIGMA team comes to mind), though we have never really faced the unique challenges confronting the world today, and, by God (or, more accurately, independently of any supposed supernatural help) will find and implement the solution.  Let’s hope this is not mere wishful thinking.  We will soon know, one way or the other, just how future-proof we really are.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

” END OF THE WORLD ” vs ” END OF THE MONTH “

Long before President Macron this week coined this ominous dichotomy, the Brits had concocted their meaningless “at the end of the day”.  It joined “actually”, “when all is said and done” and “moving forward” as part of their push to pollute prose with padding.  But if the French President is challenging his compatriots – and indirectly the world – to accept the choice of maintaining gasoline taxes, which are making it impossible for so many average French families to make ends meet, rather than hastening the annihilation of life on this planet, both rebellious citizens in their yellow jackets and their tenacious President seem to be forgetting that, for billions of people around the world, surviving till the end of the  D A Y  is already a challenge.

The luxury of the rich is to worry about losing their wealth.  The luxury of the hard-strapped is choosing which bills they can get away with postponing, and putting pasta on the table more often than they would like.  People earning 1500 euros net per month are choosing battery-grown chicken over the free-range they used to be able to afford.  For people starving in Yemen, the luxury of these choices does not exist.

“Am I my brother’s keeper ?” (of course I am !).  “Love one another”.  “I was hungry and you fed me”.  We’d all prefer to make the world a better place, and not have to see those skeletons on the screen every night, as we munch our TV snacks.  If inequality continues to shame us as human beings, never before has mankind had to face, not just another famine but the end of life as we know it.  Our concern, beyond the blindfaithblindfolly at the heart of this Blog, should be our universal inability and refusal to weigh the consequences of our blindness to a perhaps . . . evitable End of the World.

Who, among us, will be the champion with the conviction, the courage, the charisma, the credibility – and the connections – to open our eyes before it is too late ?  If s/he has not yet been born, it is already too late.

FINIS      CORONAT      OPUS   ?

 

 

” HAKUNA MATATA “

Students of Swahili and fans of “The Lion King” may not know that Australians were constantly saying “No Worries” long before Elton John and Tim Rice wrote the song.  Taught to Simba when he was just a cub by a meerkat and a warthog, who learned to live with his own flatulence and not worry about it, though other fauna did not appreciate his Blowin’ out the Wind, it has become the musical translation of contemporary Positive Thinking.

Admirable in its intentions, however, unbridled and blind optimism can lead to catastrophic results.  A patient refuses to accept his doctor’s diagnosis of cancer and the treatment he prescribes.  War is never declared against the invader; its very existence is denied.  Such “positive thinking”, unfortunately, will very probably result in his death.  The major threat facing mankind at present is the ecological disaster we have brought upon ourselves.  As I pointed out in a recent post, “Collapsology : Apocalypse … Soon ?”, scientists are predicting the annihilation, within just a few decades, of life on the planet, unless radical mesures are taken immediately.  We can refuse the diagnosis, and continue to count, for example, on coal and other fossil fuels – with dire, apocalyptic consequences.  We can dismiss the Greens as nut-cases, refuse to see in the change of climate (and not just the weather) unmistakable warning signs and make “Hakuna Matata” the international anthem of the United Nations.  But unless political, scientific, economic and industrial powers join forces to attempt, at least, to ensure our survival, Simba’s ballad may well become our swan song.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

” A LOTTA THINGS DON’T MAKE SENSE “

The title is a line from a Netflix series, “The Good Cop”, a lead-in to the following examples a NYPD detective offers a colleague :

—  Why doesn’t Tarzan have a beard ?

—  Why do the Flintstones celebrate Christmas ?

—  Why are nickels bigger than dimes ?

The wisecracks are meant to make the series sparkle and the spectators smile.  Whether they do or they don’t, there ARE many things in the world that make little or no sense to most of  us.

The one that bothers me the most ?  I guess you can guess : the Expanding Universe.  Its very immensity makes us wonder how we, on our tiny planet, insignificant in itself contrasted with the giant planets in our own galaxy and the gigantic stars in others, sisters of our own relatively small Sun, have managed – in less than 100 years of its 14-billion year existence – to discover a world unknown to our grandparents.  But it also makes us ask what possible purpose or meaning there could be in a Universe that is expanding faster and faster with no end in sight.  What makes even less sense is that religious believers blithely accept all this, confident that God knows what He is doing !

Let me know when you figure it all out.  Then we can talk about Tarzan, the Flintstones and the size of small change.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

” THE IGNORANCE TO WHICH WE GIVE THE GRANDIOSE NAME OF GOD “

Yuval Harari, in his “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” nailed it in eleven words.  There are so many things we don’t know, and even more we’ll never know.  He lists a few of them :

—  the most profound enigmas of the Cosmos

—  why there is anything rather than nothing

—  what determined the fundamental laws of Physics

—  what conscience is and where it came from.

So, he says, we dreamed up a Legislator to justify the zillions of rules we invented, sometimes concerning short sleeves on women’s clothing, same-sex intimate relations and bad boys’ masturbation.  These rules were codified in sacred texts, written, he suggests, by an imagined Homo Sapiens to legislate social norms and political structures.

God, according to Harari, has proved useful in justifying our political interests, our economic ambitions and our personal hatreds.  But there is no need whatever to have invented God or religious faith as a necessary condition for moral conduct.  If you want to know why, read his book, or at least Lesson 13, entitled “God.  Thou shalt not pronounce His name in vain”.  (The name He revealed to Moses – who had a real name – was a joke :  “I am who am”.  It meant “Mind your own bloody business !”.  Mine is :  “I am who blogs”.)

RIDENDA      RELIGIO